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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Grail, Holy

The legendary cup supposed to have been used by Jesus Christ during the last supper as well as to catch the blood of Jesus while on the Cross. The origin of the legend is an unfinished novel by a French poet Cretien de Troyes (c. 1180) entitled Perceval or Le Conte du Graal (“The Story of the Grail”). The story is about the quest of Perceval for knighthood during the time of King Arthur, where Perceval witnessed a shining and mysterious grail in the house of a host, the Fisher-King, where he was temporarily staying. He failed to ask about it despite his curiosity, and he was later told that his failure to ask had sorrowful consequences. Thereafter he undertook a quest in search of the Grail.

The unfinished story was continued by several writers but the most famous one was written by another French poet, Robert de Boron (c. 1200) entitled Joseph of Arimathea. It was in this work that the Grail was now linked to the cup that Jesus used during the last supper. The story was part of a trilogy, the other two being Merlin and Perceval. The last mentioned work is lost. In the story it was Joseph’s brother-in-law Bron who brought the Grail to Britain. Subsequent writers expanded the story until the hero became the pure-hearted Galahad, son of Lancelot, who asked the right question about the Grail.

From fiction, the story of the Grail developed into a myth and religious allegory, a story that veiled a spiritual quest. It became linked to historical events such as the Knight Templars and the Crusades. Many books have been written up to the present century, both fiction and non-fiction, that treated the Grail as if it actually exists.

The Grail story, wrote Geoffrey Hodson in his Light of the Sanctuary, is but the drama of the human soul,

. . . in which the hero passes through the tests and experiences of the outer life, contends against ignorance and evil, and releases the highest qualities from imprisonment in and by the lower nature. When at last the personality becomes intimately linked with and knows itself as the Inner Divine Self, ‘a higher power bringeth a Cup full of intuition and wisdom and also prudence and giveth it to the Soul’ (Pistis Sophia, translated by G. R. S. Mead)

The Grail legend may thus be regarded as an allegory of the Path of Discipleship and Initiation, and all the events and adventures describe interior experiences of the aspirant, disciple, or Initiate.

The cup or the Grail itself is said to symbolize the Causal Body, which is the vehicle of the Divine Wisdom. Charles W. LEADBEATER wrote that the ancient Dionysian mystery schools also used the symbol of the Krater or Cup which represents the descent of the Ego or the causal body that is filled with “the wine of the divine life and love” (Glimpses of Masonic History).

V.H.C./P.S.H.

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