Videos by Skylight Authors (Part I)

Here is a smattering of reading and interview videos from our literary authors.  Happy browsing….

Iain Sinclair

Rikki Ducornet

Will Alexander

Pierre Joris

Garry Craig Powell

Basil King

Diana Durham

Richard Froude

Margaret Randall

Hugh Fox

Dee Sunshine







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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 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 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.  


By Caitlín Matthews


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.’ 


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.


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


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.


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?


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. 


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:
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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 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.  


By Caitlín Matthews


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.’


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.


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!


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.  


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!



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.


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
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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 or direct from the Skylight Press website.









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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.  


By Caitlín Matthews


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.


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

Merton Great Hall.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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:
Divination blog:

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

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.  


By Caitlín Matthews


Writing is a mysterious process.  Some days it looks like nothing, and other days it is enough. Very occasionally, it is a pleasure to have written. Today wasn’t such a good day. I was tired and unsettled. When it’s this bad, I return to text and try a little immersion.

I happened to turn to the closing words of the Third Grail Continuation, where the narrator, known only as Manesier, congratulates himself on finishing for Jeanne, Countess of Flanders (1205-44) what Chrétien began for her ancestor, Philip of Flanders (1143-91). He tells us he has laboured to finish this story and finally brought it to the point where King Arthur sat before the Grail.  He then tells us that, ‘all those who travel the road can still see the story there, sealed all in parchment.’

Well, that brought on a shiver! Manesier is talking about bringing a story home. It isn’t like big-game hunting, there are no racks of antlers to impress the guests, but he has ‘sealed all in parchment.’ It is rare in medieval texts to witness the writing process so intimately, or to read acknowledgement of what has been a piece of ancestral, relay writing.

I refer you back to day 20 of this writer’s diary, where you might be reminded of how long a process this first writing of the Grail legends was: a kind of relay race to cover ground that is just too vast for one writer to encompass.  The Grail legends were a kind of marathon, truly, but to be told that ‘all those who travel the road can see the story there!’ Yes, I am inspired afresh. The story and the road ARE one, and now I am doing my part, using a computer and a printer, to seal it in parchment all anew.  

You too can travel this road, once the folios of this parchment are sewn together and done. Where will you walk then, I wonder? 


A Writer’s Day 26


MESS:  muddle, shambles, disarray, confusion. From Old French mes ‘portion of food’, from late Latin missum ‘something put on the table’

POTTAGE: soup or stew. From Middle English (as potage): from Old French potage ‘that which is put into a pot’. 

The horrible simplification and dumbing down of everything for the benefit of those who have no concentration seems to afflict everything, even history and literature. Writing about real history means having to deal with inconvenient and untidy parts of how it was.  History isn’t always an easy sound-bite, literature isn’t simply a crass quotation.  In his new novel, The Whispering Swarm,Michael Moorcock remembers the London of his youth, and rejoices that the bomb-damage of the blitz wasn’t taken as an opportunity to create a Disney-fied, theme-park kind of London. He deplores our general tendency to clean up the past:  ‘The real, messy, informative past disappears to be overlaid with bad fiction, with simplified folklore, easy answers. Memory needs to remain complex, debateable.’

Keeping memory bright and broad is the task in hand, if we are to bring these overlapping Grail stories into the foreground.  The historical context of their telling and the mythic memory to which they give access require a wide frame. Whatever my own opinions and tendencies, I cannot tidy the Grail tradition up, making some kind of standard ruler of these very different stories.  I have to let these talk for themselves, however inconvenient and divergent they can be from each other.

Some years ago, in one of his early books, John made a brief summary of the central core of the Grail stories, just as a base-line of reference, making it clear that the summary wasn’t ‘the whole or only story’ just a convenient point of reference to the main themes under discussion. Unfortunately, a psychologist took this summary as ‘THE Grail story’ and based a whole book upon it, using it to prove his theories. Because he depended entirely on the summary, the result was so sk3ewed that the book was worse than useless.  The writer never bothered to look at any primary sources for the Grail, not even in translation! When learning about anything you need the evidence of witnesses.

More information, taken from many different points of view, is required to see the whole Grail landscape. It includes failure, mess and divergent themes that don’t lead anywhere.  The complexity of overlapping stories that retell, forget and recast the adventures of other knights is just how it is.  It all bobs around in the pot together, creating a unique flavour. However many theories you might want to prove, the Grail legends come out differently every time, just like a mess of pottage into which you put whatever you have!


Medieval version: Take whatever you have in the fridge, vegetable rack and cupboards. Amalgamate, add stock/water, boil up and let it merge together over heat.  Ladle into dish and eat. To keep it going, add in more veg and other stuff, with a bit more stock/water. Lasts for days, this way.

Modern version:  Slice onions and garlic and sweat in butter. Chop whatever vegetables you have and add, stirring them up for a bit.  Create a stock from stock cube and water, if you have none ready made. Add any kind of beans from a tin. Add a tin of tomatoes, if you like these, with their juice. Pour on stock so that ingredients are just covered. Season with herbs you like. Boil, then simmer for 15-20 mins. Voilá, pottage!

17 February  SOWING THE SEED

A writer’s day 27


We have to thank Chrétien de Troyes for inseminating Europe with the Grail story. Other anonymous folk also played their parts, but he is the one that first told it to a large and international audience.  In fact he begins his Perceval with this very image in the prologue, ‘He reaps little who sows little, and whoever wants to reap a harvest disseminates his seed in the places where God repays a hundredfold; if the good seed falls on worthless ground, it will thirst and finally fail.’

Chrétien’s patron was Count Philip of Flanders (1143-91) whose second wife, Sibylle of Anjou, was the daughter of Count Foulques of Anjou and sister to Geoffrey Plantagenet, the father of Henry II of England. Philip’s father, Thierry of Alsace, had been rewarded with a special gift or his services in the Second Crusade: the phial of Holy Blood, which can still be seen processed at Bruges in Belgiumevery year.  Philip of Flanders married Elisabeth of Vermandois, a niece of Eleanor of Aquitaine, so his court was fertile ground indeed.

A storyteller never knows where the seed of the story will sprout: will it be heard and implant as intended, or will it be diverted into a lesser channel to grow up deformed, or will it just bounce off the unyielding soil?  This is why storytellers and writers the world over have a dedication at the front of the book: no matter that no-one else reads what has been written, the person or group or people to whom it is dedicated, will see it is carried forward.  Occasionally you see a dedication to someone’s deceased relatives, of course.  Does the story then go into the land of the dead? I hope so, for a story should run backwards as well as forwards.

The deep abiding growth of a story is about how it seeds, ultimately.  The Grail stories seed in the context of the Second Crusade where relics of the Passion and knightly adventures in defence of Christian religion and culture were the news of the day.  Not everyone was able to go on crusade, but those left at home had their own stories because of Chrétien and the other, unnamed tellers.

For ourselves, reading these stories in different times, dealing with the legacy, and spiritual disparagement of crusade, the ground is different. The age of miracles has gone past us and re-emerged as nine-day wonders on Facebook. Instead of holy relics and black knights, it is two headed babies and the outrageous behaviour of partners to their spouses.  Yet the longing for a harvest of stories that will nourish us has not departed.  We still yearn for the touchstone that will turn our mess into order, our tattered hopes into glorious achievements. A quick twitter isn’t going to sustain the story, is it? Go-go, Chrétien, we are still listening!


A writer’s day 28 on Lost Book of the Grail

In the olden days, John and I used to live in a tiny four room flat. The office was the bedroom and there hoved an old Amstrad computer, whose screen was black with green letters. We used to share it. – Yes, share! – However did we do that?  Mostly we had different days off from work, so this made possible a whole day or half day in which to get ahead with any writing, but I remember evenings as ‘difficult.’  

Prior to this I had a typewriter called Dionysius the Areopagite on which we wrote the whole of Western Way. In those days ‘cut and paste’ meant what that sounds like – you’d written something in the wrong place? Well, print it out, get the scissors, cut out the piece in question and affix with glue in the required place!  Considering that Western Way (now entitled Walkers Between the Worlds) clocked in at about 240,000 words, that was quite a feat.  We don’t actually have any manuscripts from this time as they were all stored at John’s mother’s house and, when she died, these all had to be destroyed as we had no storage. But, occasionally, we find a file in which a sheaf of typewritten notes reappears and we look at it with the same wonder that most people reserve for recently discovered vellum parchments! 

Before even this, I had two fountain pens with which I used to write everything.  I remember visiting Rosemary Sutcliff, our absolute writing heroine, who still wrote with one right up till her death in 1992. She suffered from Still’s Disease, a form of juvenile arthritis that caused the fingers of her hand to be permanently turned into the palm of her hand: but she still used a fountain pen and had her manuscripts typed up. She wrote over 60 books this way!

I still use a fountain pen for writing up client notes, which apart from poetry on the hoof, is still my most oral form of writing, if you get my meaning.  When I fill my pen mid-flow, usually my client stops speaking and stares in bewilderment and asks what I’m doing: about 75% of them have never seen anyone fill a fountain pen before!

In our lifetime, the means of writing has changed beyond reckoning. From fountain pen to computer and printer is about as revolutionary as from quill to Gutenburg. Now I am on the verge of having to think about what to do, now that Windows 98 is unsupported on my computer. Do I stay PC or go Apple? This is a fearful step, as everything I’ve ever professionally written on a computer has been translated into this format. I know that if I upgrade, then scripts I’ve written in particular programmes will not go with me, notated music that I’ve composed probably won’t work either.  Like a monk on the verge of the monasteries’ dissolution, I tremble at the potential loss of these things.

Many blessings

Caitlín Matthews
Courses, books and events:
Divination blog:


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

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.  


By Caitlín Matthews

5th February  RUTHLESSNESS

A writer’s day 15 on the Lost Book of the Grail.

When I occasionally sit down with those who have a first book that they want to finish, or those who have planned a space in their lives to start one, I usually ask one vital question: ‘Are you ruthless enough?’  This usually results in dismayed looks, but it is a vital question if you are going to have the gall to complete something.  The fixative of finish isn’t just application and showing up to the desk, it is utter ruthlessness.

The deep legends gripped me so strongly yesterday that subsequent output was very pleasing. By 5.40pm I had some substantial bits of chapters 3, 6 and 8, while chapter 7 made it into first manifestation. Today, I’ve opened up dialogue boxes for the Seven Guardians of the Seven Branches of the Elucidation. What will pop into them is a delicate process of listening to the internal structures of the text which reveals and hides, suggests and removes suggestions in the most gnostic way.

I am trying to keep calm as I have the disruption of two whole days away from my desk coming up – family and ritual distractions – and everything is flowing so well. I am at the ruthless stage of needing to attend to the writing and let the universe do its own thing. Disruptions galore are also arriving,  severally as Shakespeare says, by mail and email from all over the world, right in the middle of  this pristine week of joined-up writing.  People who want me to write, plan ahead and get back to them. This is exactly how work stops and the fine pencil point of concentration becomes blunted. Even John keeps shouting from the other room, where he’s sorting books, do I still want X or Y? When I don’t respond, he mutters about ‘not having help’ but, you know, I am just NOT AVAILABLE, world! Head down, I keep at it.  


A writer’s day 16 on Lost Book of the Grail.

One of the favourite poems that we loved hearing read in my class when I was a child on a dull Friday afternoon, when the teacher let us put away the text books and read to us for the last half hour until the bell, was Kipling’s Smuggler’s Song, a narrative poem that grips you from the outset:

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,

Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,

Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.

Watch the wall my darling while the gentlemen go by.

Well, today I have been peering through the blind of the Elucidation, to try and see the gentlemen who are called ‘the Seven Guardians of the Story.’  These mysterious ones, we are told, are not only the guardians of this mystery, but they are also the seven branches of the story too!  The text doesn’t tell us very much about them – a few lines, sometimes two lines, that’s all. Although we can trace some of their tracks through different forests of the Arthurian quests, as I’ve been doing since 3am this morning, they remain allusively mysterious.

I want to know what they are smuggling in, as much as the curious child of the Kipling poem, aware that the narrator of the Elucidation is being very secretive with us.  But if just one crack of light showed through the blind, what might we see projected upon the wall that we are instructed to watch?  For me, it’s neither a wall or window option.  What if I ran out into the street, might I pass by them, softly, in the dark? 

Tip-toeing softly, I am going now…..

7th February          MYTH CAKE

A writer’s day 17

Since I mentioned it a few days back, several people asked for the recipe of Myth Cake. Here you all are, as this is a non-writing day for me and I’ll be visiting my son and daughter in law in their new house.  Myth Cake is what you need for Arthurian quests or those dull afternoons when you wish you were in a quest. It is the lavender that makes it mythic and the fruit contents that you can choose for yourself. This makes a blondie kind of cake: if you use fresh blueberries beware of keeping the cake for more  than 3 days or mould will begin! (That’s if you have any left after 3 days, of course!) I am loose with ingredients as I don’t weigh anything, so you need to be aware of this!  Make a cake-mixture that is of a nice dropping consistency.  You can add more fruit of your choice – or substitute other things that you like, such as chopped peel, cherries, raisins etc.  – you know what you like. 

I am notoriously mean with sugar, as I don’t like very sweet things, however, don’t put in any more lavender sugar but just ordinary sugar if you want it sweeter, or your mouth will not thank you! – you want to eat cake, not scented candle or bath salts! Oh, and I don’t do metric either, sorry!


3-4 oz melted butter 
1-2 tablespoons of lavender sugar  – see below
3 tablespoons lemon juice 
2 eggs                                             
6-8 oz plain flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon salt 
quarter pint or so of almond milk (depends on flour content)
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest                                                                             handful of dried cranberries
handful of fresh or dried blueberries

2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1 tablespoon melted butter 
2-3 ozs icing sugar

Beat together butter, lavender sugar and eggs.  (I always put a spoon of flour in before adding the lemon juice to the mix, to avoid curdling.) Mix in flour, baking powder and salt; stir into egg mixture and add enough milk to make a dropping consistency. Fold in lemon zest, and fruit. Pour into a greased or lined cake tin. Bake in the oven on a shelf that’s not right at the top, but one notch down from that, at Gas mark 4, 350 deg for 60-70 minutes.  

While it’s cooking, melt the butter, cool a bit, then add icing sugar, combine the  lemon juice judiciously so that you have a not too runny icing.

Leave the cake cool in the tin for 10-15 mins, turn out and let it cool a bit more – this is the hard part, I know! Then slather on icing and eat. Your mythic day has begun!


Buy sugar of choice – golden caster is good or white if you have to. In a mixing jug pour out enough sugar that will fill your screw-top jar.  Add to it the flower-tops of 2-3 lavender stalks (you don’t need the stalks!) Crumble the lavender kernels into the sugar, pour sugar and flowers into your jar. No cooking required! Use sparingly – really! A little is an awful lot.


A writer’s day 18

I meet many people who sidle up and tell me that they have written a book.  ‘Who have you shown it to or sent it to?’ I ask. ‘No-one’ is usually the answer. I keep silent at this point because, frankly, it is unlikely to come to much unless you engage with the process of publish and be damned.  Anyone who replies ‘no-one,’ doesn’t need my advice and I am not going to waste my time castigating or exhorting.  It will remain a dream book until in print or read by at least one another human being.

Professional writing is what it sounds like – professional. We do it for money, as dear old, blunt Dr. Johnson said, ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.’ And yet, even professional writing is being led to this very point, as advances shrink or vanish.  The smaller publishers can’t afford to pay authors and keep going, but  writers are the content-bearers and we are the dreamers of dreams, to  paraphrase Alfred O’Shaughnessy. Without us and our vision, the people perish, I am assured by Proverbs.  (Bible alert for those who don’t like it.) While I am there, I am reminded of a difficult and unpromising commission from the same quarter.

The prophet Isaiah, whom I regard as a good guide to surviving in difficult times, was given what must be the most unpromising commission in the world, to my mind.  And  he volunteered for it. Prophets, like writers, do have a choice, but once entered into it, well…..!  

After having a vision of the heavenly host, Isaiah hears the Creator asking, ‘“Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me!”  The Creator said, “Go, and tell this people:

Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.
Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull, and their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.”’(Isaiah 6, 8-10)

Oh my, the irony!  If that isn’t publish and be damned, I don’t know what is! I bet Isaiah immediately swallowed hard on hearing this commission. 

Whether it’s prophecy or whatever else, if you put your hand up for inspiration, like Isaiah, you just have to get it out there, no matter the result! Though ears be blocked and eyes unseeing, no matter what the provocation or the subsequent result, we writers have to write, publish and be damned, like any prophet. It is mostly a thankless task. We mainly hope that those who don’t understand will return from the exile of ignorance, from the wasteland of the spirit, and will get it, but we don’t count on it. We just have to deliver what we were given and that alone is the task, just like poor Isaiah!

9 February   WANTED

A writer’s day 19 on the Lost Book of the Grail

The search is on for King Amangons, wanted for the violation of an ancient custom, unbroken for centuries, until he came along.  He and his followers are the cause of the Wasteland, if you want to know why this land isn’t worth even a couple of hazelnuts any more!  This parlous state of affairs has gone on long enough.  


Also wanted, someone to set things to rights. Must have own horse and arms, a wilingness to travel and a burning desire to rectify things.  Anyone answering to this description should apply to the steward at the court of Caerleon. 

Chasing king Amangons and his many doublets all over the Arthurian record today has turning this morning into a detective hunt. We have set up dragnets all over the place in all the most plausible and implausible places. Some are dead-ends, while others are people of the same name, answering to a different description.  We keep looking and assessing. 

At the heart of the early Grail quests is a desire for retributive vengeance, which causes the most gung-ho responses from those who think they are doing good. 

The answer to violation and wasteland is not always so easy. Apportioning blame and bringing home the perpetrators doesn’t heal anything, however satisfying it is to those who enjoy ‘salvific violence.’  On the ground, the Grail quest is largely a blundering round, trying to set things to rights, and some real, substantial failures. A lot of desires get projected upon the quest and these eventually become the obstacles that prevent its realisation. 

Yes, Amangons is the lynch pin of why things go wrong, but he may also be partially responsible for how they get right again.  Don’t judge things too early!


A writer’s day 20  

Back in the late 12th century, Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval  was left perilously unfinished,  right in the middle of Sir Gawain’s adventures where he had just sent a page to King Arthur’s court to explain how he will be coming to the Pentecost gathering but that he had to fight a knight first. (Remember, a page was the equivalent of a text back in those days!) The page arrives to find the court dolefully lamenting that they’ve not heard from Gawain and fearing the worst for him. The page is poised to enter the castle and tell the good news when a lady who is up on high spots the page and runs to the queen, who asks her what was wrong dot dot dot.  And the story breaks off. 

We don’t know whether Chretien died or the scribe ran out of ink, or what, but  a whole series of writers – no doubt in response to readers’ and hearers’ dismay at a truncated story – continued the adventures which just went on expanding and changing as subsequent writers evolved the Grail quest into ever new adventures.   The author of what is called the First Continuation, actually begins ‘dot dot dot and what had alarmed her so,’ exactly where Chretien broke off. The same thing happened again and again, until there were four continuations, and a whole series of other stories, in many different European languages from French to Dutch, that hacked into these continuations and extended even more corridors until we have a whole Grail castle of Grail stories. 

This process, now so familiar to us from television soaps and multi-volume novels, went on within the Grail legends from 13-15th centuries almost unchecked. This is why there is not just ONE Grail story.  The extrapolations and imaginative interpolations so cross-track and reinspire each other that a whole series of pathways have to be explored in order to find out what is going on and who had read who. 

The text that we are working on, The Elucidation, is very different in many ways from all these. It has its own mysterious messages and an alternative vision that fuses Christian chivalry with pre-Christian faery and folkloric traditions.  Our job is to go to the mythic heart of the Grail legends and discover the mainspring that makes this one of the longest running quests in the world.


A writer’s day 21 on Lost Book of the Grail

This morning I needed a big broom to sweep away all the little tasks that are made so much more arduous by what I call ‘creeping death by pin code.’   In order to transact anything online, we need codes, phone numbers (and their menu systems) in order to access things, but sometimes the tools provided, as on my online bank today, are just not adequate.  Not only was a vital phone number not actually shown in the ‘help’ column of my account, neither was the box big enough to insert the very long Portuguese name of a company to whom I am sending money.  I got as far as phoning for help to complete this transaction, only to find that I still need the recipient’s bank name and address, which I don’t have. So not only have I wasted an hour of my life, I didn’t even achieve this small task.  This one transaction and my quest to find the item I am buying has taken 4 months in total, so it has become a quest in itself! And to think that this would have been just 5 minutes on Paypal! (which the company doesn’t possess.) It was nearly 1pm before I got to my real work, as a result.

We are at the stage with the book when the material is beginning to pile up, which also means that other facts and interesting things are also coming to litter the main hall of gathering. At this point, we don’t want to sweep too hastily as we might throw aside something that proves to be a vital clue, but we do need a system of stacking it tidily until wanted or discarded: that means dumping it into a likely chapter at present.  With this book, I am being meticulous with references and sources: too many times, I’ve pounced on a piece of information with glee and run off to write, only to forget where I first found it, creating for myself an endless search another time.  Yes, we’re back at access codes again.  The vital key codes for me to rediscover Grail clues live in brackets immediately after the information is written down, so (Bryant 1982, p.98) or (Morris 1892, v.543) will help me get back to the place again.  This is the petty stuff of writing that is part of essential daily practice, leaving patrins or traveller’s waymarks to get back to the glade or fountain again. 

However, the real keys to the Grail lie in the texts themselves which is always where I go first, not to the critique, because what other people have to say is never as important as what the story says about itself.  Immersion in a text is the first requisite: learning to swim in that world through the metaphors, images and story developments that have their own unique flavour.  Once the initial context is clearer, only then I might look at other supporting works.  Just as no alternative pin code will unlock the secure site you trying to enter, so  too, no amount of information will open up this delicate process of accessing the text, only the pin code of the same flavour – the language of myth itself.

Myth has its own rules, as we all know. We’ve seen how no amount of battering upon the door will open the faery gates once the hero/ine has messed up in fairyland; no amount of kind thoughts will revive the Beast who languishes in his distant castle, only the return of Beauty with a loving kiss; no matter how near Gilgamesh is to gaining eternal life, sleep still overcomes him and keeps him mortal.  We glimpse the Grail, don’t think to ask the question, and wake on the bare hillside.  We have to learn the sequence, remember the notes, recite the chant, respond from the heart, and never, never, forget these precious keys to the door.

Many blessings.

Caitlín Matthews
Courses, books and events:
Divination blog:

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