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Jessie L. Weston
From Ritual to Romance
In the introductory Chapter the reader will find the aim and object of these studies set forth at length. In view of the importance and complexity of the problems involved it seemed better to incorporate such a statement in the book itself, rather than relegate it to a Preface which all might not trouble to read. Yet I feel that such a general statement does not adequately express my full debt of obligation.
Among the many whose labour has been laid under contribution in the following pages there are certain scholars whose published work, or personal advice, has been specially illuminating, and to whom specific acknowledgment is therefore due. Like many others I owe to Sir J. G. Frazer the initial inspiration which set me, as I may truly say, on the road to the Grail Castle. Without the guidance of The Golden Bough I should probably, as the late M. Gaston Paris happily expressed it, still be wandering in the forest of Broceliande!
During the Bayreuth Festival of 1911 I had frequent opportunities of meeting, and discussion with, Professor von Schroeder. I owe to him not only the introduction to his own work, which I found most helpful, but references which have been of the greatest assistance; e.g. my knowledge of Cumont’s Les Religions Orientales, and Scheftelowitz’s valuable study on Fish Symbolism, both of which have furnished important links in the chain of evidence, is due to Professor von Schroeder.
The perusal of Miss J. E. Harrison’s Themis opened my eyes to the extended importance of these Vegetation rites. In view of the evidence there adduced I asked myself whether beliefs which had found expression not only in social institution, and popular custom, but, as set forth in Sir G. Murray’s study on Greek Dramatic Origins, attached to the work, also in Drama and Literature, might not reasonably–even inevitably–be expected to have left their mark on Romance? The one seemed to me a necessary corollary of the other, and I felt that I had gained, as the result of Miss Harrison’s work, a wider, and more assured basis for my own researches. I was no longer engaged merely in enquiring into the sources of a fascinating legend, but on the identification of another field of activity for forces whose potency as agents of evolution we were only now beginning rightly to appreciate.
Finally, a casual reference, in Anrich’s work on the Mysteries, to the Naassene Document, caused me to apply to Mr G. R. S. Mead, of whose knowledge of the mysterious border-land between Christianity and Paganism, and willingness to place that knowledge at the disposal of others, I had, for some years past, had pleasant experience. Mr Mead referred me to his own translation and analysis of the text in question, and there, to my satisfaction, I found, not only the final link that completed the chain of evolution from Pagan Mystery to Christian Ceremonial, but also proof of that wider significance I was beginning to apprehend. The problem involved was not one of Folk-lore, not even one of Literature, but of Comparative Religion in its widest sense.
Thus, while I trust that my co-workers in the field of Arthurian research will accept these studies as a permanent contribution to the elucidation of the Grail problem, I would fain hope that those scholars who labour in a wider field, and to whose works I owe so much, may find in the results here set forth elements that may prove of real value in the study of the evolution of religious belief.
J. L. W.
Nature of the Grail problem. Unsatisfactory character of results achieved. Objections to Christian Legendary origin; to Folk-lore origin. Elements in both theories sound. Solution to be sought in a direction which will do justice to both. Sir J. G. Frazer’s Golden Bough indicates possible line of research. Sir W. Ridgeway’s criticism of Vegetation theory examined. Dramas and Dramatic Dances. The Living and not the Dead King the factor of importance. Impossibility of proving human origin for Vegetation Deities. Not Death but Resurrection the essential centre of Ritual. Muharram too late in date and lacks Resurrection feature. Relation between defunct heroes and special localities. Sanctity possibly antecedent to connection. Mana not necessarily a case of relics. Self-acting weapons frequent in Medieval Romance. Sir J. G. Frazer’s theory holds good. Remarks on method and design of present Studies.
The Task of the Hero
Essential to determine the original nature of the task imposed upon the hero. Versions examined. The Gawain forms–Bleheris, Diû Crône. Perceval versions–Gerbert, prose Perceval, Chrétien de Troyes, Perlesvaus, Manessier, Peredur, Parzival. Galahad–Queste. Result, primary task healing of Fisher King and removal of curse of Waste Land. The two inter-dependent. Illness of King entails misfortune on Land. Enquiry into nature of King’s disability. Sone de Nansai. For elucidation of problem necessary to bear in mind close connection between Land and Ruler. Importance of Waste Land motif for criticism.
The Freeing of the Waters
Enquiry may commence with early Aryan tradition. The Rig-Veda. Extreme importance assigned to Indra’s feat of “Freeing the Waters.” This also specific achievement of Grail heroes. Extracts from Rig-Veda. Dramatic poems and monologues. Professor von Schroeder’s theory. Mysterium und Mimus. Rishyaçriñga drama. Parallels with Perceval story. Result, the specific task of the Grail hero not a literary invention but an inheritance of Aryan tradition.
Tammuz and Adonis
General objects to be attained by these Nature Cults. Stimulation of Fertility, Animal and Vegetable. Principle of Life ultimately conceived of in anthropomorphic form. This process already advanced in Rig-Veda. Greek Mythology preserves intermediate stage. The Eniautos Daimon. Tammuz–earliest known representative of Dying God. Character of the worship. Origin of the name. Lament for Tammuz. His death affects not only Vegetable but Animal life. Lack of artistic representation of Mysteries. Mr Langdon’s suggestion. Ritual possibly dramatic. Summary of evidence. Adonis–Phoenician-Greek equivalent of Tammuz. Probably most popular and best known form of Nature Cult. Mythological tale of Adonis. Enquiry into nature of injury. Importance of recognizing true nature of these cults and of the ritual observed. Varying dates of celebration. Adonis probably originally Eniautos Daimon. Principle of Life in general, hence lack of fixity in date. Details of the ritual. Parallels with the Grail legend examined. Dead Knight or Disabled King. Consequent misfortunes of Land. The Weeping Women. The Hairless Maiden. Position of Castle. Summing up. Can incidents of such remote antiquity be used as criticism for a Medieval text?
Medieval and Modern Forms of Nature Ritual
Is it possible to establish chain of descent connecting early Aryan and Babylonian Ritual with Classic, Medieval and Modern forms of Nature worship? Survival of Adonis cult established. Evidence of Mannhardt and Frazer. Existing Continental customs recognized as survivals of ancient beliefs. Instances. ‘Directly related’ to Attis-Adonis cult. Von Schroeder establishes parallel between existing Fertility procession and Rig-Veda poem. Identification of Life Principle with King. Prosperity of land dependent on king as representative of god. Celts. Greeks. Modern instances, the Shilluk Kings. Parallel between Shilluk King, Grail King and Vegetation Deity. Sone de Nansai and the Lament for Tammuz. Identity of situation. Plea for unprejudiced criticism. Impossibility of such parallels being fortuitous; the result of deliberate intention, not an accident of literary invention. If identity of central character be admitted his relation to Waste Land becomes fundamental factor in criticizing versions. Another African survival.
Summary of results of previous enquiry. The Medieval Stage. Grail romances probably contain record of secret ritual of a Fertility cult. The Symbols of the cult–Cup, Lance, Sword, Stone, or Dish. Plea for treating Symbols as a related group not as isolated units. Failure to do so probably cause of unsatisfactory result of long research. Essential to recognize Grail story as an original whole and to treat it in its ensemble aspect. We must differentiate between origin and accretion. Instances. The Legend of Longinus. Lance and Cup not associated in Christian Art. Evidence. The Spear of Eastern Liturgies only a Knife. The Bleeding Lance. Treasures of the Tuatha de Danann. Correspond as a group with Grail Symbols. Difficulty of equating Cauldron-Grail. Probably belong to a different line of tradition. Instances given. Real significance of Lance and Cup. Well known as Life Symbols. The Samurai. Four Symbols also preserved as Suits of the Tarot. Origin of Tarot discussed. Probably reached Europe from the East. Use of the Symbols in Magic. Probable explanation of these various appearances to be found in fact that associated group were at one time symbols of a Fertility cult. Further evidence to be examined.
The Sword Dance
Relation of Sword Dance, Morris Dance, and Mumming Play. Their Ceremonial origin now admitted by scholars. Connected with seasonal Festivals and Fertility Ritual. Earliest Sword Dancers, the Maruts. Von Schroeder, Mysterium und Mimus. Discussion of their nature and functions. The Kouretes. Character of their dance. Miss J. E. Harrison, Themis. The Korybantes. Dance probably sacrificial in origin. The Salii. Dramatic element in their dance. Mars, as Fertility god. Mamurius Veturius. Anna Perenna. Character of dance seasonal. Modern British survivals. The Sword Dance. Mostly preserved in North. Variants. Mr E. K. Chambers, The Medieval Stage. The Mumming Plays. Description. Characters. Recognized as representing Death and Revival of Vegetation Deity. Dr Jevons, Masks and the Origin of the Greek Drama. Morris Dances. No dramatic element. Costume of character significant. Possible survival of theriomorphic origin. Elaborate character of figures in each group. Symbols employed. The Pentangle. The Chalice. Present form shows dislocation. Probability that three groups were once a combined whole and Symbols united. Evidence strengthens view advanced in last Chapter. Symbols originally a group connected with lost form of Fertility Ritual. Possible origin of Grail Knights to be found in Sword Dancers.
The Medicine Man
The rôle of the Medicine Man, or Doctor in Fertility Ritual. Its importance and antiquity. The Rig-Veda poem. Classical evidence, Mr F. Cornford. Traces of Medicine Man in the Grail romances. Gawain as Healer. Persistent tradition. Possible survival from pre-literary form. Evidence of the Triads. Peredur as Healer. Evolution of theme. Le Dist de l’Erberie.
The Fisher King
Summary of evidence presented. Need of a ‘test’ element. To be found in central figure. Mystery of his title. Analysis of variants. Gawain version. Perceval version. Borron alone attempts explanation of title. Parzival. Perlesvaus. Queste. Grand Saint Graal. Comparison with surviving ritual variants. Original form King dead, and restored to life. Old Age and Wounding themes. Legitimate variants. Doubling of character a literary device. Title. Why Fisher King? Examination of Fish Symbolism. Fish a Life symbol. Examples. Indian–Manu, Vishnu, Buddha. Fish in Buddhism. Evidence from China. Orpheus. Babylonian evidence. Tammuz Lord of the Net. Jewish Symbolism. The Messianic Fish-meal. Adopted by Christianity. Evidence of the catacombs. Source of Borron’s Fish-meals. Mystery tradition not Celtic Folk-tale. Comparison of version with Finn story. With Messianic tradition. Epitaph of Bishop Aberkios. Voyage of Saint Brandan. Connection of Fish with goddess Astarte. Cumont. Connection of Fish and Dove. Fish as Fertility Symbol. Its use in Marriage ceremonies. Summing up of evidence. Fisher King inexplicable from Christian point of view. Folk-lore solution unsatisfactory. As a Ritual survival completely in place. Centre of action, and proof of soundness of theory.
The Secret of the Grail (1)
The Grail regarded as an object of awe. Danger of speaking of Grail or revealing Its secrets. Passages in illustration. Why, if survival of Nature cults, popular, and openly performed? A two-fold element in these cults, Exoteric, Esoteric. The Mysteries. Their influence on Christianity to be sought in the Hellenized rather than the Hellenic cults. Cumont. Rohde. Radical difference between Greek and Oriental conceptions. Lack of evidence as regards Mysteries on the whole. Best attested form that connected with Nature cults. Attis-Adonis. Popularity of the Phrygian cult in Rome. Evidence as to Attis Mysteries. Utilized by Neo-Platonists as vehicle for teaching. Close connection with Mithraism. The Taurobolium. Details of Attis Mysteries. Parallels with the Grail romances.
The Secret of the Grail (2)
The Naassene Document
Relations between early Christianity, and pre-Christian cults. Early Heresies. Hippolytus, and The Refutation of all Heresies. Character of the work. The Naassene Document. Mr Mead’s analysis of text. A synthesis of Mysteries. Identification of Life Principle with the Logos. Connection between Drama and Mysteries of Attis. Importance of the Phrygian Mysteries. Naassene claim to be sole Christians. Significance of evidence. Vegetation cults as vehicle of high spiritual teaching. Exoteric and Esoteric parallels with the Grail tradition. Process of evolution sketched. Bleheris. Perlesvaus. Borron and the Mystery tradition. Christian Legendary, and Folk-tale, secondary, not primary, features.
Mithra and Attis
Problem of close connection of cults. Their apparent divergence. Nature of deities examined. Attis. Mithra. The Messianic Feast. Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie. Difference between the two initiations. Link between Phrygian, Mithraic, and Christian, Mysteries to be found in their higher, esoteric, teaching. Women not admitted to Mithraic initiation. Possible survival in Grail text. Joint diffusion through the Roman Empire. Cumont’s evidence. Traces of cult in British Isles. Possible explanation of unorthodox character of Grail legend. Evidence of survival of cult in fifth century. The Elucidation a possible record of historic facts. Reason for connecting Grail with Arthurian tradition.
The Perilous Chapel
The adventure of the Perilous Chapel in Grail romances. Gawain form. Perceval versions. Queste. Perlesvaus. Lancelot. Chevalier à Deux Espées. Perilous Cemetery. Earliest reference in Chattel Orguellous. Âtre Perilleus. Prose Lancelot. Adventure part of ‘Secret of the Grail.’ The Chapel of Saint Austin. Histoire de Fulk Fitz-Warin. Genuine record of an initiation. Probable locality North Britain. Site of remains of Mithra-Attis cults. Traces of Mystery tradition in Medieval romance. Owain Miles. Bousset, Himmelfahrt der Seele. Parallels with romance. Appeal to Celtic scholars. Otherworld journeys a possible survival of Mystery tradition. The Templars, were they Naassenes?
Provenance and authorship of Grail romantic tradition. Evidence points to Wales, probably Pembrokeshire. Earliest form contained in group of Gawain poems assigned to Bleheris. Of Welsh origin. Master Blihis, Blihos, Bliheris, Bréri, Bledhericus. Probably all references to same person. Conditions of identity. Mr E. Owen, and Bledri ap Cadivor. Evidence not complete but fulfils conditions of problem Professor Singer and possible character of Bleheris’ text. Mr Alfred Nutt. Irish and Welsh parallels. Recapitulation of evolutionary process. Summary and conclusion.
“Animus ad amplitudinem Mysteriorum pro modulo suo dilatetur, non Mysteria ad angustias animi constringantur.” (Bacon.)
“Many literary critics seem to think that an hypothesis about obscure and remote questions of history can be refuted by a simple demand for the production of more evidence than in fact exists.–But the true test of an hypothesis, if it cannot be shewn to conflict with known truths, is the number of facts that it correlaates, and explains.” (Cornford, Origins of Attic Comedy.)
In view of the extensive literature to which the Grail legend has already given birth it may seem that the addition of another volume to the already existing corpus calls for some words of apology and explanation. When the student of the subject contemplates the countless essays and brochures, the volumes of studies and criticism, which have been devoted to this fascinating subject, the conflicting character of their aims, their hopelessly contradictory results, he, or she, may well hesitate before adding another element to such a veritable witches’ cauldron of apparently profitless study. And indeed, were I not convinced that the theory advocated in the following pages contains in itself the element that will resolve these conflicting ingredients into one harmonious compound I should hardly feel justified in offering a further contribution to the subject.
But it is precisely because upwards of thirty years’ steady and persevering study of the Grail texts has brought me gradually and inevitably to certain very definite conclusions, has placed me in possession of evidence hitherto ignored, or unsuspected, that I venture to offer the result in these studies, trusting that they may be accepted as, what I believe them to be, a genuine Elucidation of the Grail problem.
My fellow-workers in this field know all too well the essential elements of that problem; I do not need here to go over already well-trodden ground; it will be sufficient to point out certain salient features of the position.
The main difficulty of our research lies in the fact that the Grail legend consists of a congeries of widely differing elements–elements which at first sight appear hopelessly incongruous, if not completely contradictory, yet at the same time are present to an extent, and in a form, which no honest critic can afford to ignore.
Thus it has been perfectly possible for one group of scholars, relying upon the undeniably Christian-Legendary elements, preponderant in certain versions, to maintain the thesis that the Grail legend is ab initio a Christian, and ecclesiastical, legend, and to analyse the literature on that basis alone.
Another group, with equal reason, have pointed to the strongly marked Folk-lore features preserved in the tale, to its kinship with other themes, mainly of Celtic provenance, and have argued that, while the later versions of the cycle have been worked over by ecclesiastical writers in the interests of edification, the story itself is non-Christian, and Folk-lore in origin.
Both groups have a basis of truth for their arguments: the features upon which they rely are, in each case, undeniably present, yet at the same time each line of argument is faced with certain insuperable difficulties, fatal to the claims advanced.
Thus, the theory of Christian origin breaks down when faced with the awkward fact that there is no Christian legend concerning Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail. Neither in Legendary, nor in Art, is there any trace of the story; it has no existence outside the Grail literature, it is the creation of romance, and no genuine tradition.
On this very ground it was severely criticized by the Dutch writer Jacob van Maerlant, in 1260. In his Merlin he denounces the whole Grail history as lies, asserting that the Church knows nothing of it–which is true.
In the same way the advocate of a Folk-lore origin is met with the objection that the section of the cycle for which such a source can be definitely proved, i.e., the Perceval story, has originally nothing whatever to do with the Grail; and that, while parallels can be found for this or that feature of the legend, such parallels are isolated in character and involve the breaking up of the tale into a composite of mutually independent themes. A prototype, containing the main features of the Grail story–the Waste Land, the Fisher King, the Hidden Castle with its solemn Feast, and mysterious Feeding Vessel, the Bleeding Lance and Cup–does not, so far as we know, exist. None of the great collections of Folk-tales, due to the industry of a Cosquin, a Hartland, or a Campbell, has preserved specimens of such a type; it is not such a story as, e.g., The Three Days Tournament, examples of which are found all over the world. Yet neither the advocate of a Christian origin, nor the Folk-lorist, can afford to ignore the arguments, and evidence of the opposing school, and while the result of half a century of patient investigation has been to show that the origin of the Grail story must be sought elsewhere than in ecclesiastical legend, or popular tale, I hold that the result has equally been to demonstrate that neither of these solutions should be ignored, but that the ultimate source must be sought for in a direction which shall do justice to what is sound in the claims of both.
Some years ago, when fresh from the study of Sir J. G. Frazer’s epoch-making work, The Golden Bough, I was struck by the resemblance existing between certain features of the Grail story, and characteristic details of the Nature Cults described. The more closely I analysed the tale, the more striking became the resemblance, and I finally asked myself whether it were not possible that in this mysterious legend–mysterious alike in its character, its sudden appearance, the importance apparently assigned to it, followed by as sudden and complete a disappearance–we might not have the confused record of a ritual, once popular, later surviving under conditions of strict secrecy? This would fully account for the atmosphere of awe and reverence which even under distinctly non-Christian conditions never fails to surround the Grail, It may act simply as a feeding vessel, It is none the less toute sainte cose; and also for the presence in the tale of distinctly popular, and Folk-lore, elements. Such an interpretation would also explain features irreconcilable with orthodox Christianity, which had caused some scholars to postulate a heterodox origin for the legend, and thus explain its curiously complete disappearance as a literary theme. In the first volume of my Perceval studies, published in 1906, I hinted at this possible solution of the problem, a solution worked out more fully in a paper read before the Folk-lore Society in December of the same year, and published in Volume XVIII. of the Journal of the Society. By the time my second volume of studies was ready for publication in 1909, further evidence had come into my hands; I was then certain that I was upon the right path, and I felt justified in laying before the public the outlines of a theory of evolution, alike of the legend, and of the literature, to the main principles of which I adhere to-day.
But certain links were missing in the chain of evidence, and the work was not complete. No inconsiderable part of the information at my disposal depended upon personal testimony, the testimony of those who knew of the continued existence of such a ritual, and had actually been initiated into its mysteries–and for such evidence the student of the letter has little respect. He worships the written word; for the oral, living, tradition from which the word derives force and vitality he has little use. Therefore the written word had to be found. It has taken me some nine or ten years longer to complete the evidence, but the chain is at last linked up, and we can now prove by printed texts the parallels existing between each and every feature of the Grail story and the recorded symbolism of the Mystery cults. Further, we can show that between these Mystery cults and Christianity there existed at one time a close and intimate union, such a union as of itself involved the practical assimilation of the central rite, in each case a ‘Eucharistic’ Feast, in which the worshippers partook of the Food of Life from the sacred vessels.
In face of the proofs which will be found in these pages I do not think any fair-minded critic will be inclined to dispute any longer the origin of the ‘Holy’ Grail; after all it is as august and ancient an origin as the most tenacious upholder of Its Christian character could desire.
But I should wish it clearly to be understood that the aim of these studies is, as indicated in the title, to determine the origin of the Grail, not to discuss the provenance and interrelation of the different versions. I do not believe this latter task can be satisfactorily achieved unless and until we are of one accord as to the character of the subject matter. When we have made up our minds as to what the Grail really was, and what it stood for, we shall be able to analyse the romances; to decide which of them contains more, which less, of the original matter, and to group them accordingly. On this point I believe that the table of descent, printed in Volume II. of my Perceval studies is in the main correct, but there is still much analytical work to be done, in particular the establishment of the original form of the Perlesvaus is highly desirable. But apart from the primary object of these studies, and the results therein obtained, I would draw attention to the manner in which the evidence set forth in the chapters on the Mystery cults, and especially that on The Naassene Document, a text of extraordinary value from more than one point of view, supports and complements the researches of Sir J. G. Frazer. I am, of course, familiar with the attacks directed against the ‘Vegetation’ theory, the sarcasms of which it has been the object, and the criticisms of what is held in some quarters to be the exaggerated importance attached to these Nature cults. But in view of the use made of these cults as the medium of imparting high spiritual teaching, a use which, in face of the document above referred to, can no longer be ignored or evaded, are we not rather justified in asking if the true importance of the rites has as yet been recognized? Can we possibly exaggerate their value as a factor in the evolution of religious consciousness?
Such a development of his researches naturally lay outside the range of Sir J. G. Frazer’s work, but posterity will probably decide that, like many another patient and honest worker, he ‘builded better than he knew.’
I have carefully read Sir W. Ridgeway’s attack on the school in his Dramas and Dramatic Dances, and while the above remarks explain my position with regard to the question as a whole, I would here take the opportunity of stating specifically my grounds for dissenting from certain of the conclusions at which the learned author arrives. I do not wish it to be said: “This is all very well, but Miss Weston ignores the arguments on the other side.” I do not ignore, but I do not admit their validity. It is perfectly obvious that Sir W. Ridgeway’s theory, reduced to abstract terms, would result in the conclusion that all religion is based upon the cult of the Dead, and that men originally knew no gods but their grandfathers, a theory from which as a student of religion I absolutely and entirely dissent. I can understand that such Dead Ancestors can be looked upon as Protectors, or as Benefactors, but I see no ground for supposing that they have ever been regarded as Creators, yet it is precisely as vehicle for the most lofty teaching as to the Cosmic relations existing between God and Man, that these Vegetation cults were employed. The more closely one studies pre-Christian Theology, the more strongly one is impressed with the deeply, and daringly, spiritual character of its speculations, and the more doubtful it appears that such teaching can depend upon the unaided processes of human thought, or can have been evolved from such germs as we find among the supposedly ‘primitive’ peoples, such as e.g. the Australian tribes. Are they really primitive? Or are we dealing, not with the primary elements of religion, but with the disjecta membra of a vanished civilization? Certain it is that so far as historical evidence goes our earliest records point to the recognition of a spiritual, not of a material, origin of the human race; the Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms were not composed by men who believed themselves the descendants of ‘witchetty grubs.’ The Folk practices and ceremonies studied in these pages, the Dances, the rough Dramas, the local and seasonal celebrations, do not represent the material out of which the Attis-Adonis cult was formed, but surviving fragments of a worship from which the higher significance has vanished.
Sir W. Ridgeway is confident that Osiris, Attis, Adonis, were all at one time human beings, whose tragic fate gripped hold of popular imagination, and led to their ultimate deification. The first-named cult stands on a somewhat different basis from the others, the beneficent activities of Osiris being more widely diffused, more universal in their operation. I should be inclined to regard the Egyptian deity primarily as a Culture Hero, rather than a Vegetation God.
With regard to Attis and Adonis, whatever their original character (and it seems to me highly improbable that there should have been two youths each beloved by a goddess, each victim of a similar untimely fate), long before we have any trace of them both have become so intimately identified with the processes of Nature that they have ceased to be men and become gods, and as such alone can we deal with them. It is also permissible to point out that in the case of Tammuz, Esmun, and Adonis, the title is not a proper name, but a vague appellative, denoting an abstract rather than a concrete origin. Proof of this will be found later. Sir W. Ridgeway overlooks the fact that it is not the tragic death of Attis-Adonis which is of importance for these cults, but their subsequent restoration to life, a feature which cannot be postulated of any ordinary mortal.
And how are we to regard Tammuz, the prototype of all these deities? Is there any possible ground for maintaining that he was ever a man? Prove it we cannot, as the records of his cult go back thousands of years before our era. Here, again, we have the same dominant feature; it is not merely the untimely death which is lamented, but the restoration to life which is celebrated.
Throughout the whole study the author fails to discriminate between the activities of the living, and the dead, king. The Dead king may, as I have said above, be regarded as the Benefactor, as the Protector, of his people, but it is the Living king upon whom their actual and continued prosperity depends. The detail that the ruling sovereign is sometimes regarded as the re-incarnation of the original founder of the race strengthens this point–the king never dies–Le Roi est mort, Vive le Roi is very emphatically the motto of this Faith. It is the insistence on Life, Life continuous, and ever-renewing, which is the abiding characteristic of these cults, a characteristic which differentiates them utterly and entirely from the ancestral worship with which Sir W. Ridgeway would fain connect them.
Nor are the arguments based upon the memorial rites of definitely historical heroes, of comparatively late date, such as Hussein and Hossein, of any value here. It is precisely the death, and not the resurrection, of the martyr which is of the essence of the Muharram. No one contends that Hussein rose from the dead, but it is precisely this point which is of primary importance in the Nature cults; and Sir W. Ridgeway must surely be aware that Folk-lorists find in this very Muharram distinct traces of borrowing from the earlier Vegetation rites.
The author triumphantly asserts that the fact that certain Burmese heroes and heroines are after death reverenced as tree spirits ‘sets at rest for ever’ the belief in abstract deities. But how can he be sure that the process was not the reverse of that which he postulates, i.e., that certain natural objects, trees, rivers, etc., were not regarded as sacred before the Nats became connected with them? That the deified human beings were not after death assigned to places already held in reverence? Such a possibility is obvious to any Folk-lore student, and local traditions should in each case be carefully examined before the contrary is definitely asserted.
So far as the origins of Drama are concerned the Ode quoted later from the Naassene Document is absolute and definite proof of the close connection existing between the Attis Mystery ritual, and dramatic performances, i.e., Attis regarded in his deified, Creative, ‘Logos,’ aspect, not Attis, the dead youth.
Nor do I think that the idea of ‘Mana’ can be lightly dismissed as ‘an ordinary case of relics.’ The influence may well be something entirely apart from the continued existence of the ancestor, an independent force, assisting him in life, and transferring itself after death to his successor. A ‘Magic’ Sword or Staff is not necessarily a relic; Medieval romance supplies numerous instances of self-acting weapons whose virtue in no wise depends upon their previous owner, as e.g. the Sword in Le Chevalier à l’Épée, or the Flaming Lance of the Chevalier de la Charrette. Doubtless the cult of Ancestors plays a large rôle in the beliefs of certain peoples, but it is not a sufficiently solid foundation to bear the weight of the super-structure Sir W. Ridgeway would fain rear upon it, while it differs too radically from the cults he attacks to be used as an argument against them; the one is based upon Death, the other on Life.
Wherefore, in spite of all the learning and ingenuity brought to bear against it, I avow myself an impenitent believer in Sir J. G. Frazer’s main theory, and as I have said above, I hold that theory to be of greater and more far-reaching importance than has been hitherto suspected.
I would add a few words as to the form of these studies–they may be found disconnected. They have been written at intervals of time extending over several years, and my aim has been to prove the essentially archaic character of all the elements composing the Grail story rather than to analyse the story as a connected whole. With this aim in view I have devoted chapters to features which have now either dropped out of the existing versions, or only survive in a subordinate form, e.g. the chapters on The Medicine Man, and The Freeing of the Waters. The studies will, I hope, and believe, be accepted as offering a definite contribution towards establishing the fundamental character of our material; as stated above, when we are all at one as to what the Holy Grail really was, and is, we can then proceed with some hope of success to criticize the manner in which different writers have handled the inspiring theme, but such success seems to be hopeless so long as we all start from different, and often utterly irreconcilable, standpoints and proceed along widely diverging roads. One or another may, indeed, arrive at the goal, but such unanimity of opinion as will lend to our criticism authoritative weight is, on such lines, impossible of achievement.
The Task of the Hero
As a first step towards the successful prosecution of an investigation into the true nature and character of the mysterious object we know as the Grail it will be well to ask ourselves whether any light may be thrown upon the subject by examining more closely the details of the Quest in its varying forms; i.e., what was the precise character of the task undertaken by, or imposed upon, the Grail hero, whether that hero were Gawain, Perceval, or Galahad, and what the results to be expected from a successful achievement of the task. We shall find at once a uniformity which assures us of the essential identity of the tradition underlying the varying forms, and a diversity indicating that the tradition has undergone a gradual, but radical, modification in the process of literary evolution. Taken in their relative order the versions give the following result.
GAWAIN (Bleheris). Here the hero sets out on his journey with no clear idea of the task before him. He is taking the place of a knight mysteriously slain in his company, but whither he rides, and why, he does not know, only that the business is important and pressing. From the records of his partial success we gather that he ought to have enquired concerning the nature of the Grail, and that this enquiry would have resulted in the restoration to fruitfulness of a Waste Land, the desolation of which is, in some manner, not clearly explained, connected with the death of a knight whose name and identity are never disclosed. “Great is the loss that ye lie thus, ’tis even the destruction of kingdoms, God grant that ye be avenged, so that the folk be once more joyful and the land repeopled which by ye and this sword are wasted and made void.” The fact that Gawain does ask concerning the Lance assures the partial restoration of the land; I would draw attention to the special terms in which this is described: “for so soon as Sir Gawain asked of the Lance…the waters flowed again thro’ their channel, and all the woods were turned to verdure.”
Diû Crône. Here the question is more general in character; it affects the marvels beheld, not the Grail alone; but now the Quester is prepared, and knows what is expected of him. The result is to break the spell which retains the Grail King in a semblance of life, and we learn, by implication, that the land is restored to fruitfulness: “yet had the land been waste, but by his coming had folk and land alike been delivered.” Thus in the earliest preserved, the GAWAIN form, the effect upon the land appears to be the primary result of the Quest.
PERCEVAL. The Perceval versions, which form the bulk of the existing Grail texts, differ considerably the one from the other, alike in the task to be achieved, and the effects resulting from the hero’s success, or failure. The distinctive feature of the Perceval version is the insistence upon the sickness, and disability of the ruler of the land, the Fisher King. Regarded first as the direct cause of the wasting of the land, it gradually assumes overwhelming importance, the task of the Quester becomes that of healing the King, the restoration of the land not only falls into the background but the operating cause of its desolation is changed, and finally it disappears from the story altogether. One version, alone, the source of which is, at present, undetermined, links the PERCEVAL with the GAWAIN form; this is the version preserved in the Gerbert continuation of the Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes. Here the hero having, like Gawain, partially achieved the task, but again like Gawain, having failed satisfactorily to resolder the broken sword, wakes, like the earlier hero, to find that the Grail Castle has disappeared, and he is alone in a flowery meadow. He pursues his way through a land fertile, and well-peopled and marvels much, for the day before it had been a waste desert. Coming to a castle he is received by a solemn procession, with great rejoicing; through him the folk have regained the land and goods which they had lost. The mistress of the castle is more explicit. Perceval had asked concerning the Grail:
“par coi amendé
Somes, en si faite maniére
Qu’en ceste regne n’avoit riviére Qui ne fust gaste, ne fontaine.
E la terre gaste et soutaine.”
Like Gawain he has ‘freed the waters’ and thus restored the land.
In the prose Perceval the motif of the Waste Land has disappeared, the task of the hero consists in asking concerning the Grail, and by so doing, to restore the Fisher King, who is suffering from extreme old age, to health, and youth.
“Se tu eusses demandé quel’en on faisoit, que li rois ton aiol fust gariz de l’enfermetez qu’il a, et fust revenu en sa juventé.”
When the question has been asked: “Le rois péschéor estoit gariz et tot muez de sa nature.” “Li rois peschiére estoit mués de se nature et estoit garis de se maladie, et estoit sains comme pissons.” Here we have the introduction of a new element, the restoration to youth of the sick King.
In the Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes we find ourselves in presence of certain definite changes, neither slight, nor unimportant, upon which it seems to me insufficient stress has hitherto been laid. The question is changed; the hero no longer asks what the Grail is, but (as in the prose Perceval) whom it serves? a departure from an essential and primitive simplicity–the motive for which is apparent in Chrétien, but not in the prose form, where there is no enigmatic personality to be served apart. A far more important change is that, while the malady of the Fisher King is antecedent to the hero’s visit, and capable of cure if the question be asked, the failure to fulfil the prescribed conditions of itself entails disaster upon the land. Thus the sickness of the King, and the desolation of the land, are not necessarily connected as cause and effect, but, a point which seems hitherto unaccountably to have been overlooked, the latter is directly attributable to the Quester himself.
“Car se tu demandé l’eusses
Li rice roi qui moult s’esmaie Fust or tost garis de sa plaie
Et si tenist sa tière en pais
Dont il n’en tenra point jamais,”
but by Perceval’s failure to ask the question he has entailed dire misfortune upon the land:
“Dames en perdront lor maris,
Tiéres en seront essiliés,
Et pucielles desconselliés
Orfenes, veves, en remanront
Et maint chevalier en morront.”
This idea, that the misfortunes of the land are not antecedent to, but dependent upon, the hero’s abortive visit to the Grail Castle, is carried still further by the compiler of the Perlesvaus, where the failure of the predestined hero to ask concerning the office of the Grail is alone responsible for the illness of the King and the misfortunes of the country. “Une grans dolors est avenue an terre novelement par un jeune chevalier qui fu herbergiez an l’ostel au riche roi Peschéor, si aparut à lui li saintimes Graaus, et la lance de quoi li fiers seigne par la poignte; ne demanda de quoi ce servoit, ou dont ce venoit, et por ce qu’il ne demanda sont toutes les terres comméues an guerre, ne chevalier n’ancontre autre au forest qu’il ne li core sus, et ocie s’il peut.”
“Li Roi Pecheors de qui est grant dolors, quar il est cheüz en une douleureuse langour–ceste langour li est venue par celui qui se heberga an son ostel, à qui li seintimes Graaus s’aparut, por ce que cil ne vost demander de qu’il an servoit, toutes les terres an furent comméues en gerre.”
“Je suis cheüz an langour dès cele oure que li chevaliers se herberga çoianz dont vous avez oï parler; par un soule parole que il déloia a dire me vint ceste langour.”
From this cause the Fisher King dies before the hero has achieved the task, and can take his place. “Li bons Rois Peschiéres est morz.” There is here no cure of the King or restoration of the land, the specific task of the Grail hero is never accomplished, he comes into his kingdom as the result of a number of knightly adventures, neither more nor less significant than those found in non-Grail romances.
The Perlesvaus, in its present form, appears to be a later, and more fully developed, treatment of the motif noted in Chrétien, i.e., that the misfortunes of King and country are directly due to the Quester himself, and had no antecedent existence; this, I would submit, alters the whole character of the story, and we are at a loss to know what, had the hero put the question on the occasion of his first visit, could possibly have been the result achieved. It would not have been the cure of the King: he was, apparently, in perfect health; it would not have been the restoration to verdure of the Land: the Land was not Waste; where, as in the case of Gawain, there is a Dead Knight, whose death is to be avenged, something might have been achieved, in the case of the overwhelming majority of the Perceval versions, which do not contain this feature, the dependence of the Curse upon the Quester reduces the story to incoherence. In one Perceval version alone do we find a motif analogous to the earlier Gawain Bleheris form. In Manessier the hero’s task is not restricted to the simple asking of a question, but he must also slay the enemy whose treachery has caused the death of the Fisher King’s brother; thereby healing the wound of the King himself, and removing the woes of the land. What these may be we are not told, but, apparently, the country is not ‘Waste.'
In Peredur we have a version closely agreeing with that of Chrétien; the hero fails to enquire the meaning of what he sees in the Castle of Wonders, and is told in consequence: “Hadst thou done so the King would have been restored to health, and his dominions to peace, whereas from henceforth he will have to endure battles and conflicts, and his knights will perish, and wives will be widowed, and maidens will be left portionless, and all this because of thee.” This certainly seems to imply that, while the illness of the Fisher King may be antecedent to, and independent of, the visit and failure of the hero, the misfortunes which fall on the land have been directly caused thereby.
The conclusion which states that the Bleeding Head seen by the hero “was thy cousin’s, and he was killed by the Sorceresses of Gloucester, who also lamed thine uncle–and there is a prediction that thou art to avenge these things–” would seem to indicate the presence in the original of a ‘Vengeance’ theme, such as that referred to above.
In Parzival the stress is laid entirely on the sufferings of the King; the question has been modified in the interests of this theme, and here assumes the form “What aileth thee, mine uncle?” The blame bestowed upon the hero is solely on account of the prolonged sorrow his silence has inflicted on King and people; of a Land laid Waste, either through drought, or war, there is no mention.
“Iuch solt’ iur wirt erbarmet hân, An dem Got wunder hât getân,
Und het gevrâget sîner nôt,
Ir lebet, und sît an saelden tôt.”
“Dô der trûrege vischaere
Saz âne fröude und âne trôst
War umb’ iren niht siufzens hât erlôst.”
The punishment falls on the hero who has failed to put the question, rather than on the land, which, indeed, appears to be in no way affected, either by the wound of the King, or the silence of the hero. The divergence from Chrétien’s version is here very marked, and, so far, seems to have been neglected by critics. The point is also of importance in view of the curious parallels which are otherwise to be found between this version and Perlesvaus; here the two are in marked contradiction with one another.
The question finally asked, the result is, as indicated in the prose version, the restoration of the King not merely to health, but also to youth–
“Swaz der Frânzoys heizet flô’rî’ Der glast kom sinem velle bî,
Parzival’s schoen’ was nu ein wint; Und Absalôn Dâvîdes kint,
Von Askalûn Vergulaht
Und al den schoene was geslaht, Und des man Gahmurete jach
Dô man’n in zogen sach
Ze Kanvoleis sô wünneclîch,
Ir dechéines schoen’ was der gelîch, Die Anfortas ûz siecheit truoc.
Got noch künste kan genuoc.”
GALAHAD. In the final form assumed by the story, that preserved in the Queste, the achievement of the task is not preceded by any failure on the part of the hero, and the advantages derived therefrom are personal and spiritual, though we are incidentally told that he heals the Fisher King’s father, and also the old King, Mordrains, whose life has been preternaturally prolonged. In the case of this latter it is to be noted that the mere fact of Galahad’s being the predestined winner suffices, and the healing takes place before the Quest is definitely achieved.
There is no Waste Land, and the wounding of the two Kings is entirely unconnected with Galahad. We find hints, in the story of Lambar, of a knowledge of the earlier form, but for all practical purposes it has disappeared from the story.
Analysing the above statements we find that the results may be grouped under certain definite headings:
(a) There is a general consensus of evidence to the effect that the main object of the Quest is the restoration to health and vigour of a King suffering from infirmity caused by wounds, sickness, or old age;
(b) and whose infirmity, for some mysterious and unexplained reason, reacts disastrously upon his kingdom, either depriving it of vegetation, or exposing it to the ravages of war.
(c) In two cases it is definitely stated that the King will be restored to youthful vigour and beauty.
(d) In both cases where we find Gawain as the hero of the story, and in one connected with Perceval, the misfortune which has fallen upon the country is that of a prolonged drought, which has destroyed vegetation, and left the land Waste; the effect of the hero’s question is to restore the waters to their channel, and render the land once more fertile.
(e) In three cases the misfortunes and wasting of the land are the result of war, and directly caused by the hero’s failure to ask the question; we are not dealing with an antecedent condition. This, in my opinion, constitutes a marked difference between the two groups, which has not hitherto received the attention it deserves. One aim of our present investigation will be to determine which of these two forms should be considered the elder.
But this much seems certain, the aim of the Grail Quest is two-fold; it is to benefit (a) the King, (b) the land. The first of these two is the more important, as it is the infirmity of the King which entails misfortune on his land, the condition of the one reacts, for good or ill, upon the other; how, or why, we are left to discover for ourselves.
Before proceeding further in our investigation it may be well to determine the precise nature of the King’s illness, and see whether any light upon the problem can be thus obtained.
In both the Gawain forms the person upon whom the fertility of the land depends is dead, though, in the version of Diû Crône he is, to all appearance, still in life. It should be noted that in the Bleheris form the king of the castle, who is not referred to as the Fisher King, is himself hale and sound; the wasting of the land was brought about by the blow which slew the knight whose body Gawain sees on the bier.
In both the Perlesvaus, and the prose Perceval the King has simply ‘fallen into languishment,’ in the first instance, as noted above, on account of the failure of the Quester, in the second as the result of extreme old age.
In Chrétien, Manessier, Peredur, and the Parzival, the King is suffering from a wound the nature of which, euphemistically disguised in the French texts, is quite clearly explained in the German.
But the whole position is made absolutely clear by a passage preserved in Sone de Nansai and obviously taken over from an earlier poem. This romance contains a lengthy section dealing with the history of Joseph ‘d’Abarimathie,’ who is represented as the patron Saint of the kingdom of Norway; his bones, with the sacred relics of which he had the charge, the Grail and the Lance, are preserved in a monastery on an island in the interior of that country. In this version Joseph himself is the Fisher King; ensnared by the beauty of the daughter of the Pagan King of Norway, whom he has slain, he baptizes her, though she is still an unbeliever at heart, and makes her his wife, thus drawing the wrath of Heaven upon himself. God punishes him for his sin:
“Es rains et desous l’afola
De coi grant dolor endura.”
Then, in a remarkable passage, we are told of the direful result entailed by this punishment upon his land:
“Sa tierre ert a ce jour nommée
Lorgres, ch’est verités prouvée, Lorgres est uns nons de dolour
Nommés en larmes et en plours, Bien doit iestre en dolour nommés
Car on n’i seme pois ne blés
Ne enfes d’omme n’i nasqui
Ne puchielle n’i ot mari,
Ne arbres fueille n’i porta
Ne nus prés n’i raverdïa,
Ne nus oysiaus n’i ot naon
Ne se n’i ot beste faon,
Tant que li rois fu mehaigniés Et qu’il fu fors de ses pechiés,
Car Jesu-Crist fourment pesa
Qu’à la mescréant habita.”
Now there can be no possible doubt here, the condition of the King is sympathetically reflected on the land, the loss of virility in the one brings about a suspension of the reproductive processes of Nature on the other. The same effect would naturally be the result of the death of the sovereign upon whose vitality these processes depended.
To sum up the result of the analysis, I hold that we have solid grounds for the belief that the story postulates a close connection between the vitality of a certain King, and the prosperity of his kingdom; the forces of the ruler being weakened or destroyed, by wound, sickness, old age, or death, the land becomes Waste, and the task of the hero is that of restoration.
It seems to me, then, that, if we desire to elucidate the perplexing mystery of the Grail romances, and to place the criticism of this important and singularly fascinating body of literature upon an assured basis, we shall do so most effectually by pursuing a line of investigation which will concentrate upon the persistent elements of the story, the character and significance of the achievement proposed, rather than upon the varying details, such as Grail and Lance, however important may be their rôle. If we can ascertain, accurately, and unmistakably, the meaning of the whole, we shall, I think, find less difficulty in determining the character and office of the parts, in fact, the question solvitur ambulando, the ‘complex’ of the problem being solved, the constituent elements will reveal their significance.
As a first step I propose to ask whether this ‘Quest of the Grail’ represents an isolated, and unique achievement, or whether the task allotted to the hero, Gawain, Perceval, or Galahad, is one that has been undertaken, and carried out by heroes of other ages, and other lands. In the process of our investigation we must retrace our steps and turn back to the early traditions of our Aryan forefathers, and see whether we cannot, even in that remote antiquity, lay our hand upon a clue, which, like the fabled thread of Ariadne, shall serve as guide through the mazes of a varying, yet curiously persistent, tradition.
The Freeing of the Waters
‘To begin at the beginning,’ was the old story-telling formula, and it was a very sound one, if ‘the beginning’ could only be definitely ascertained! As our nearest possible approach to it I would draw attention to certain curious parallels in the earliest literary monuments of our race. I would at the same time beg those scholars who may think it ‘a far cry’ from the romances of the twelfth century of our era to some 1000 years B.C. to suspend their judgment till they have fairly examined the evidence for a tradition common to the Aryan race in general, and persisting with extraordinary vitality, and a marked correspondence of characteristic detail, through all migrations and modifications of that race, down to the present day.
Turning back to the earliest existing literary evidence, the Rig-Veda, we become aware that, in this vast collection of over 1000 poems (it is commonly known as The Thousand and One Hymns but the poems contained in it are more than that in number) are certain parallels with our Grail stories which, if taken by themselves, are perhaps interesting and suggestive rather than in any way conclusive, yet which, when they are considered in relation to the entire body of evidence, assume a curious significance and importance. We must first note that a very considerable number of the Rig-Veda hymns depend for their initial inspiration on the actual bodily needs and requirements of a mainly agricultural population, i.e., of a people that depend upon the fruits of the earth for their subsistence, and to whom the regular and ordered sequence of the processes of Nature was a vital necessity.
Their hymns and prayers, and, as we have strong reason to suppose, their dramatic ritual, were devised for the main purpose of obtaining from the gods of their worship that which was essential to ensure their well-being and the fertility of their land–warmth, sunshine, above all, sufficient water. That this last should, in an Eastern land, under a tropical sun, become a point of supreme importance, is easily to be understood. There is consequently small cause for surprise when we find, throughout the collection, the god who bestows upon them this much desired boon to be the one to whom by far the greater proportion of the hymns are addressed. It is not necessary here to enter into a discussion as to the original conception of Indra, and the place occupied by him in the early Aryan Pantheon, whether he was originally regarded as a god of war, or a god of weather; what is important for our purpose is the fact that it is Indra to whom a disproportionate number of the hymns of the Rig-Veda are addressed, that it is from him the much desired boon of rain and abundant water is besought, and that the feat which above all others redounded to his praise, and is ceaselessly glorified both by the god himself, and his grateful worshippers, is precisely the feat by which the Grail heroes, Gawain and Perceval, rejoiced the hearts of a suffering folk, i.e., the restoration of the rivers to their channels, the ‘Freeing of the Waters.’ Tradition relates that the seven great rivers of India had been imprisoned by the evil giant, Vritra, or Ahi, whom Indra slew, thereby releasing the streams from their captivity.
The Rig-Veda hymns abound in references to this feat; it will only be necessary to cite a few from among the numerous passages I have noted.
‘Thou hast set loose the seven rivers to flow.’
‘Thou causest water to flow on every side.’
‘Indra set free the waters.’
‘Thou, Indra, hast slain Vritra by thy vigour, thou hast set free the rivers.’
‘Thou hast slain the slumbering Ahi for the release of the waters, and hast marked out the channels of the all-delighting rivers.’
‘Indra has filled the rivers, he has inundated the dry land.’
‘Indra has released the imprisoned waters to flow upon the earth.'
It would be easy to fill pages with similar quotations, but these are sufficient for our purpose.
Among the Rig-Veda hymns are certain poems in Dialogue form, which from their curious and elliptic character have been the subject of much discussion among scholars. Professor Oldenberg, in drawing attention to their peculiarities, had expressed his opinion that these poems were the remains of a distinct type of early Indian literature, where verses forming the central, and illuminating, point of a formal ceremonial recital had been ‘farced’ with illustrative and explanatory prose passages; the form of the verses being fixed, that of the prose being varied at the will of the reciter.
This theory, which is technically known as the ‘Âkhyâna’ theory (as it derived its starting point from the discussion of the Suparnâkhyâna text), won considerable support, but was contested by M. Sylvain Lévi, who asserted that, in these hymns, we had the remains of the earliest, and oldest, Indian dramatic creations, the beginning of the Indian Drama; and that the fragments could only be satisfactorily interpreted from the point of view that they were intended to be spoken, not by a solitary reciter, but by two or more dramatis personae.
J. Hertel (Der Ursprung des Indischen Dramas und Epos) went still further, and while accepting, and demonstrating, the justice of this interpretation of the ‘Dialogue’ poems, suggested a similar origin for certain ‘Monologues’ found in the same collection.
Professor Leopold von Schroeder, in his extremely interesting volume, Mysterium und Mimus im Rig-Veda, has given a popular and practical form to the results of these researches, by translating and publishing, with an explanatory study, a selection of these early ‘Culture’ Dramas, explaining the speeches, and placing them in the mouth of the respective actors to whom they were, presumably, assigned. Professor von Schroeder holds the entire group to be linked together by one common intention, viz., the purpose of stimulating the processes of Nature, and of obtaining, as a result of what may be called a Ritual Culture Drama, an abundant return of the fruits of the earth. The whole book is rich in parallels drawn from ancient and modern sources, and is of extraordinary interest to the Folk-lore student.
In the light thrown by Professor von Schroeder’s researches, following as they do upon the illuminating studies of Mannhardt, and Frazer, we become strikingly aware of the curious vitality and persistence of certain popular customs and beliefs; and while the two last-named writers have rendered inestimable service to the study of Comparative Religion by linking the practices of Classical and Medieval times with the Folk-customs of to-day, we recognize, through von Schroeder’s work, that the root of such belief and custom is imbedded in a deeper stratum of Folk-tradition than we had hitherto realized, that it is, in fact, a heritage from the far-off past of the Aryan peoples.
For the purposes of our especial line of research Mysterium und Mimus offers much of value and interest. As noted above, the main object of these primitive Dramas was that of encouraging, we may say, ensuring, the fertility of the Earth; thus it is not surprising that more than one deals with the theme of which we are treating, the Freeing of the Waters, only that whereas, in the quotations given above, the worshippers praise Indra for his beneficent action, here Indra himself, in propria persona appears, and vaunts his feat.
“Ich schlug den Vritra mit der Kraft des Indra! Durch eignen Grimm war ich so stark geworden! Ich machte für die Menschen frei die Wasser”
And the impersonated rivers speak for themselves.
“Indra, den Blitz im Arm, brach uns die Bahnen, Er schlug den Vritra, die Ströme einschloss.”
There is no need to insist further on the point that the task of the Grail hero is in this special respect no mere literary invention, but a heritage from the achievements of the prehistoric heroes of the Aryan race.
But the poems selected by Professor von Schroeder for discussion offer us a further, and more curious, parallel with the Grail romances.
In Section VIII. of the work referred to the author discusses the story of Rishyaçriñga, as the Mahâbhârata names the hero; here we find a young Brahmin brought up by his father, Vibhândaka, in a lonely forest hermitage absolutely ignorant of the outside world, and even of the very existence of beings other than his father and himself. He has never seen a woman, and does not know that such a creature exists.
A drought falls upon a neighbouring kingdom, and the inhabitants are reduced to great straits for lack of food. The King, seeking to know by what means the sufferings of his people may be relieved, learns that so long as Rishyaçriñga continues chaste so long will the drought endure. An old woman, who has a fair daughter of irregular life, undertakes the seduction of the hero. The King has a ship, or raft (both versions are given), fitted out with all possible luxury, and an apparent Hermit’s cell erected upon it. The old woman, her daughter and companions, embark; and the river carries them to a point not far from the young Brahmin’s hermitage.
Taking advantage of the absence of his father, the girl visits Rishyaçriñga in his forest cell, giving him to understand that she is a Hermit, like himself, which the boy, in his innocence, believes. He is so fascinated by her appearance and caresses that, on her leaving him, he, deep in thought of the lovely visitor, forgets, for the first time, his religious duties.
On his father’s return he innocently relates what has happened, and the father warns him that fiends in this fair disguise strive to tempt hermits to their undoing. The next time the father is absent the temptress, watching her opportunity, returns, and persuades the boy to accompany her to her ‘Hermitage’ which she assures him, is far more beautiful than his own. So soon as Rishyaçriñga is safely on board the ship sails, the lad is carried to the capital of the rainless land, the King gives him his daughter as wife, and so soon as the marriage is consummated the spell is broken, and rain falls in abundance.
Professor von Schroeder points out that there is little doubt that, in certain earlier versions of the tale, the King’s daughter herself played the rôle of temptress.
There is no doubt that a ceremonial ‘marriage’ very frequently formed a part of the ‘Fertility’ ritual, and was supposed to be specially efficacious in bringing about the effect desired. The practice subsists in Indian ritual to this hour, and the surviving traces in European Folk-custom have been noted in full by Mannhardt in his exhaustive work on Wald und Feld-Kulte; its existence in Classic times is well known, and it is certainly one of the living Folk-customs for which a well-attested chain of descent can be cited. Professor von Schroeder remarks that the efficacy of the rite appears to be enhanced by the previous strict observance of the rule of chastity by the officiant.
What, however, is of more immediate interest for our purpose is the fact that the Rishyaçriñga story does, in effect, possess certain curious points of contact with the Grail tradition.
Thus, the lonely upbringing of the youth in a forest, far from the haunts of men, his absolute ignorance of the existence of human beings other than his parent and himself, present a close parallel to the accounts of Perceval’s youth and woodland life, as related in the Grail romances.
In Gerbert’s continuation we are told that the marriage of the hero is an indispensable condition of achieving the Quest, a detail which must have been taken over from an earlier version, as Gerbert proceeds to stultify himself by describing the solemnities of the marriage, and the ceremonial blessing of the nuptial couch, after which hero and heroine simultaneously agree to live a life of strict chastity, and are rewarded by the promise that the Swan Knight shall be their descendant–a tissue of contradictions which can only be explained by the mal-à-droit blending of two versions, one of which knew the hero as wedded, the other, as celibate. There can be no doubt that the original Perceval story included the marriage of the hero.
The circumstances under which Rishyaçriñga is lured from his Hermitage are curiously paralleled by the account, found in the Queste and Manessier, of Perceval’s temptation by a fiend, in the form of a fair maiden, who comes to him by water in a vessel hung with black silk, and with great riches on board.
In pointing out these parallels I wish to make my position perfectly clear; I do not claim that either in the Rig-Veda, or in any other early Aryan literary monument, we can hope to discover the direct sources of the Grail legend, but what I would urge upon scholars is the fact that, in adopting the hypothesis of a Nature Cult as a possible origin, and examining the history of these Cults, their evolution, and their variant forms, we do, in effect, find at every period and stage of development undoubted points of contact, which, though taken separately, might be regarded as accidental, in their ensemble can hardly be thus considered. When every parallel to our Grail story is found within the circle of a well-defined, and carefully studied, sequence of belief and practice, when each and all form part of a well-recognized body of tradition the descent of which has been abundantly demonstrated, then I submit such parallels stand on a sound basis, and it is not unreasonable to conclude that the body of tradition containing them belongs to the same family and is to be interpreted on the same principles as the closely analogous rites and ceremonies.
I suspend the notice and discussion of other poems contained in Prof. von Schroeder’s collection till we have reached a later stage of the tradition, when their correspondence will be recognized as even more striking and suggestive.
Tammuz and Adonis
PART I. TAMMUZ
In the previous chapter we considered certain aspects of the attitude assumed by our Aryan forefathers towards the great processes of Nature in their ordered sequence of Birth, Growth, and Decay. We saw that while on one hand they, by prayer and supplication, threw themselves upon the mercy of the Divinity, who, in their belief, was responsible for the granting, or withholding, of the water, whether of rain, or river, the constant supply of which was an essential condition of such ordered sequence, they, on the other hand, believed that, by their own actions, they could stimulate and assist the Divine activity. Hence the dramatic representations to which I have referred, the performance, for instance, of such a drama as the Rishyaçriñga, the ceremonial ‘marriages,’ and other exercises of what we now call sympathetic magic. To quote a well-known passage from Sir J. G. Frazer: “They commonly believed that the tie between the animal and vegetable world was even closer than it really is–to them the principle of life and fertility, whether animal or vegetable, was one and indivisible. Hence actions that induced fertility in the animal world were held to be equally efficacious in stimulating the reproductive energies of the vegetable.” How deeply this idea was rooted in the minds of our ancestors we, their descendants, may learn from its survival to our own day.
The ultimate, and what we may in a general sense term the classical, form in which this sense of the community of the Life principle found expression was that which endowed the vivifying force of Nature with a distinct personality, divine, or semi-divine, whose experiences, in virtue of his close kinship with humanity, might be expressed in terms of ordinary life.
At this stage the progress of the seasons, the birth of vegetation in spring, or its revival after the autumn rains, its glorious fruition in early summer, its decline and death under the maleficent influence either of the scorching sun, or the bitter winter cold, symbolically represented the corresponding stages in the life of this anthropomorphically conceived Being, whose annual progress from birth to death, from death to a renewed life, was celebrated with a solemn ritual of corresponding alternations of rejoicing and lamentation.
Recent research has provided us with abundant material for the study of the varying forms of this Nature Cult, the extraordinary importance of which as an evolutionary factor in what we may term the concrete expression of human thought and feeling is only gradually becoming realized.
Before turning our attention to this, the most important, section of our investigation, it may be well to consider one characteristic difference between the Nature ritual of the Rig-Veda, and that preserved to us in the later monuments of Greek antiquity.
In the Rig-Veda, early as it is, we find the process of religious evolution already far advanced; the god has separated himself from his worshippers, and assumed an anthropomorphic form. Indra, while still retaining traces of his ‘weather’ origin, is no longer, to borrow Miss Harrison’s descriptive phrase, ‘an automatic explosive thunder-storm,’ he wields the thunderbolt certainly, but he appears in heroic form to receive the offerings made to him, and to celebrate his victory in a solemn ritual dance. In Greek art and literature, on the other hand, where we might expect to find an even more advanced conception, we are faced with one seemingly more primitive and inchoate, i.e., the idea of a constantly recurring cycle of Birth, Death, and Resurrection, or Re-Birth, of all things in Nature, this cycle depending upon the activities of an entity at first vaguely conceived of as the ‘Luck of the Year,’ the Eniautos Daimon. This Being, at one stage of evolution theriomorphic–he might assume the form of a bull, a goat, or a snake (the latter, probably from the close connection of the reptile with the earth, being the more general form)–only gradually, and by distinctly traceable stages, assumed an anthropomorphic shape. This gives to the study of Greek antiquity a special and peculiar value, since in regard to the body of religious belief and observance with which we are here immediately concerned, neither in what we may not improperly term its ultimate (early Aryan), nor in what has been generally considered its proximate (Syro-Phoenician), source, have these intermediate stages been preserved; in each case the ritual remains are illustrative of a highly developed cult, distinctly anthropomorphic in conception. I offer no opinion as to the critical significance of this fact, but I would draw the attention of scholars to its existence.
That the process of evolution was complete at a very early date has been proved by recent researches into the Sumerian-Babylonian civilization. We know now that the cult of the god Tammuz, who, if not the direct original of the Phoenician-Greek Adonis, is at least representative of a common parent deity, may be traced back to 3000 B.C., while it persisted among the Sabeans at Harran into the Middle Ages.
While much relating to the god and his precise position in the Sumerian-Babylonian Pantheon still remains obscure, fragmentary cuneiform texts connected with the religious services of the period have been discovered, and to a considerable extent deciphered, and we are thus in a position to judge, from the prayers and invocations addressed to the deity, what were the powers attributed to, and the benefits besought from, him. These texts are of a uniform character; they are all ‘Lamentations,’ or ‘Wailings,’ having for their exciting cause the disappearance of Tammuz from this upper earth, and the disastrous effects produced upon animal and vegetable life by his absence. The woes of the land and the folk are set forth in poignant detail, and Tammuz is passionately invoked to have pity upon his worshippers, and to end their sufferings by a speedy return. This return, we find from other texts, was effected by the action of a goddess, the mother, sister, or paramour, of Tammuz, who, descending into the nether world, induced the youthful deity to return with her to earth. It is perfectly clear from the texts which have been deciphered that Tammuz is not to be regarded merely as representing the Spirit of Vegetation; his influence is operative, not only in the vernal processes of Nature, as a Spring god, but in all its reproductive energies, without distinction or limitation, he may be considered as an embodiment of the Life principle, and his cult as a Life Cult.
Mr Stephen Langdon inclines to believe that the original Tammuz typified the vivifying waters; he writes: “Since, in Babylonia as in Egypt, the fertility of the soil depended upon irrigation, it is but natural to expect that the youthful god who represents the birth and death of nature, would represent the beneficent waters which flooded the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates in the late winter, and which ebbed away, and nearly disappeared, in the canals and rivers in the period of Summer drought. We find therefore that the theologians regarded this youthful divinity as belonging to the cult of Eridu, centre of the worship of Ea, lord of the nether sea.” In a note to this passage Mr Langdon adds: “He appears in the great theological list as Dami-zi, ab-zu, ‘Tammuz of the nether sea,’ i.e., ‘the faithful son of the fresh waters which come from the earth.'”
This presents us with an interesting analogy to the citations given in the previous chapter from the Rig-Veda; the Tammuz cult is specially valuable as providing us with evidence of the gradual evolution of the Life Cult from the early conception of the vivifying power of the waters, to the wider recognition of a common principle underlying all manifestations of Life.
This is very clearly brought out in the beautiful Lament for Tammuz, published by Mr Langdon in Tammuz and Ishtar, and also in Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms.
“In Eanna, high and low, there is weeping, Wailing for the house of the lord they raise. The wailing is for the plants; the first lament is ‘they grow not.’ The wailing is for the barley; the ears grow not. For the habitations and flocks it is; they produce not. For the perishing wedded ones, for perishing children it is; the dark-headed people create not.
The wailing is for the great river; it brings the flood no more. The wailing is for the fields of men; the gunu grows no more. The wailing is for the fish-ponds; the dasuhur fish spawn not. The wailing is for the cane-brake; the fallen stalks grow not. The wailing is for the forests; the tamarisks grow not. The wailing is for the highlands; the masgam trees grow not. The wailing is for the garden store-house; honey and wine are produced not.
The wailing is for the meadows; the bounty of the garden, the sihtu plants grow not.
The wailing is for the palace; life unto distant days is not.”
Can anything be more expressive of the community of life animating the whole of Nature than this poignantly worded lament?
A point which differentiates the worship of Tammuz from the kindred, and better known, cult of Adonis, is the fact that we have no liturgical record of the celebration of the resurrection of the deity; it certainly took place, for the effects are referred to:
“Where grass was not, there grass is eaten, Where water was not, water is drunk,
Where the cattle sheds were not, cattle sheds are built.”
While this distinctly implies the revival of vegetable and animal life, those features (i.e., resurrection and sacred marriage), which made the Adonis ritual one of rejoicing as much as of lamentation, are absent from liturgical remains of the Tammuz cult.
A detail which has attracted the attention of scholars is the lack of any artistic representation of this ritual, a lack which is the more striking in view of the important position which these ‘Wailings for Tammuz’ occupy in the extant remains of Babylonian liturgies. On this point Mr Langdon makes an interesting suggestion: “It is probable that the service of wailing for the dying god, the descent of the mother, and the resurrection, were attended by mysterious rituals. The actual mysteries may have been performed in a secret chamber, and consequently the scenes were forbidden in Art. This would account for the surprising dearth of archaeological evidence concerning a cult upon which the very life of mankind was supposed to depend.”
In view of the fact that my suggestion as to the possible later development of these Life Cults as Mysteries has aroused considerable opposition, it is well to bear in mind that such development is held by those best acquainted with the earliest forms of the ritual to have been not merely possible, but to have actually taken place, and that at a very remote date. Mr Langdon quotes a passage referring to “Kings who in their day played the rôle of Tammuz in the mystery of this cult”; he considers that here we have to do with kings who, by a symbolic act, escaped the final penalty of sacrifice as representative of the Dying God.
The full importance of the evidence above set forth will become more clearly apparent as we proceed with our investigation; here I would simply draw attention to the fact that we now possess definite proof that, at a period of some 3000 years B.C., the idea of a Being upon whose life and reproductive activities the very existence of Nature and its corresponding energies was held to depend, yet who was himself subject to the vicissitudes of declining powers and death, like an ordinary mortal, had already assumed a fixed, and practically final, form; further, that this form was specially crystallized in ritual observances. In our study of the later manifestations of this cult we shall find that this central idea is always, and unalterably, the same, and is, moreover, frequently accompanied by a remarkable correspondence of detail. The chain of evidence is already strong, and we may justly claim that the links added by further research strengthen, while they lengthen, that chain.
PART II. ADONIS
While it is only of comparatively recent date that information as to the exact character of the worship directed to Tammuz has been available and the material we at present possess is but fragmentary in character, the corresponding cult of the Phoenician-Greek divinity we know as Adonis has for some years been the subject of scholarly research. Not only have the details of the ritual been examined and discussed, and the surviving artistic evidence described and illustrated, but from the anthropological side attention has been forcibly directed to its importance as a factor in the elucidation of certain widespread Folk-beliefs and practices.
We know now that the worship of Adonis, which enjoyed among the Greeks a popularity extending to our own day, was originally of Phoenician origin, its principal centres being the cities of Byblos, and Aphaka. From Phoenicia it spread to the Greek islands, the earliest evidence of the worship being found in Cyprus, and from thence to the mainland, where it established itself firmly. The records of the cult go back to 700 B.C., but it may quite possibly be of much earlier date. Mr Langdon suggests that the worship of the divinity we know as Adonis, may, under another name, reach back to an antiquity equal with that we can now ascribe to the cult of Tammuz. In its fully evolved classical form the cult of Adonis offers, as it were, a halfway house, between the fragmentary relics of Aryan and Babylonian antiquity, and the wealth of Medieval and Modern survivals to which the ingenuity and patience of contemporary scholars have directed our attention.
We all know the mythological tale popularly attached to the name of Adonis; that he was a fair youth, beloved of Aphrodite, who, wounded in the thigh by a wild boar, died of his wound. The goddess, in despair at his death, by her prayers won from Zeus the boon that Adonis be allowed to return to earth for a portion of each year, and henceforward the youthful god divides his time between the goddess of Hades, Persephone, and Aphrodite. But the importance assumed by the story, the elaborate ceremonial with which the death of Adonis was mourned, and his restoration to life fêted, the date and character of the celebrations, all leave no doubt that the personage with whom we are dealing was no mere favourite of a goddess, but one with whose life and well-being the ordinary processes of Nature, whether animal or vegetable, were closely and intimately concerned. In fact the central figure of these rites, by whatever name he may be called, is the somewhat elusive and impersonal entity, who represents in anthropomorphic form the principle of animate Nature, upon whose preservation, and unimpaired energies, the life of man, directly, and indirectly, depends.
Before proceeding to examine these rites there is one point, to which I have alluded earlier, in another connection, upon which our minds must be quite clear, i.e., the nature of the injury suffered. Writers upon the subject are of one accord in considering the usual account to be but a euphemistic veiling of the truth, while the close relation between the stories of Adonis and Attis, and the practices associated with the cult, place beyond any shadow of a doubt the fact that the true reason for this universal mourning was the cessation, or suspension, by injury or death, of the reproductive energy of the god upon whose virile activity vegetable life directly, and human life indirectly, depended. What we have need to seize and to insist upon is the overpowering influence which the sense of Life, the need for Life, the essential Sanctity of the Life-giving faculty, exercised upon primitive religions. Vellay puts this well when he says: “En réalité c’est sur la conception de la vie physique, considérée dans son origine, et dans son action, et dans le double principe qui l’anime, que repose tout le cycle religieux des peuples Orientaux de l’Antiquité.”
Professor von Schroeder says even more precisely and emphatically: “In der Religion der Arischen Urzeit ist Alles auf Lebensbejahung gerichtet, Mann kann den Phallus als ihr Beherrschendes Symbol betrachten.” And in spite of the strong opposition to this cult manifested in Indian literature, beginning with the Rig-Veda, and ripening to fruition in the Upanishads, in spite of the rise of Buddhism, with its opposing dictum of renunciation, the ‘Life-Cult’ asserted its essential vitality against all opposition, and under modified forms represents the ‘popular’ religion of India to this day.
Each and all of the ritual dramas, reconstructed in the pages of Mysterium und Mimus bear, more or less distinctly, the stamp of their ‘Fertility’ origin, while outside India the pages of Frazer and Mannhardt, and numerous other writers on Folk-lore and Ethnology, record the widespread, and persistent, survival of these rites, and their successful defiance of the spread of civilization.
It is to this special group of belief and practice that the Adonis (and more especially its Phrygian counterpart the Attis) worship belong, and even when transplanted to the more restrained and cultured environment of the Greek mainland, they still retained their primitive character. Farnell, in his Cults of the Greek States, refers to the worship of Adonis as “a ritual that the more austere State religion of Greece probably failed to purify, the saner minds, bred in a religious atmosphere that was, on the whole, genial, and temperate, revolted from the din of cymbals and drums, the meaningless ecstasies of sorrow and joy, that marked the new religion.”
It is, I submit, indispensable for the purposes of our investigation that the essential character and significance of the cults with which we are dealing should not be evaded or ignored, but faced, frankly admitted and held in mind during the progress of our enquiry.
Having now determined the general character of the ritual, what were the specific details?
The date of the feast seems to have varied in different countries; thus in Greece it was celebrated in the Spring, the moment of the birth of Vegetation; according to Saint Jerome, in Palestine the celebration fell in June, when plant life was in its first full luxuriance. In Cyprus, at the autumnal equinox, i.e., the beginning of the year in the Syro-Macedonian calendar, the death of Adonis falling on the 23rd of September, his resurrection on the 1st of October, the beginning of a New Year. This would seem to indicate that here Adonis was considered, as Vellay suggests, less as the god of Vegetation than as the superior and nameless Lord of Life (Adonis=Syriac Adôn, Lord), under whose protection the year was placed. He is the Eniautos Daimon.
In the same way as the dates varied, so, also, did the order of the ritual; generally speaking the elaborate ceremonies of mourning for the dead god, and committing his effigy to the waves, preceded the joyous celebration of his resurrection, but in Alexandria the sequence was otherwise; the feast began with the solemn and joyous celebration of the nuptials of Adonis and Aphrodite, at the conclusion of which a Head, of papyrus, representing the god, was, with every show of mourning, committed to the waves, and borne within seven days by a current (always to be counted upon at that season of the year) to Byblos, where it was received and welcomed with popular rejoicing. The duration of the feast varied from two days, as at Alexandria, to seven or eight.
Connected with the longer period of the feast were the so-called ‘Gardens of Adonis,’ baskets, or pans, planted with quick growing seeds, which speedily come to fruition, and as speedily wither. In the modern survivals of the cult three days form the general term for the flowering of these gardens.
The most noticeable feature of the ritual was the prominence assigned to women; “ce sont les femmes qui le pleurent, et qui l’accompagnent à sa tombe. Elles sanglotent éperdument pendant les nuits,–c’est leur dieu plus que tout autre, et seules elles veulent pleurer sa mort, et chanter sa résurrection.”
Thus in the tenth century the festival received the Arabic name of El-Bûgat, or ‘The Festival of the Weeping Women.'
One very curious practice during these celebrations was that of cutting off the hair in honour of the god; women who hesitated to make this sacrifice must offer themselves to strangers, either in the temple, or on the market-place, the gold received as the price of their favours being offered to the goddess. This obligation only lasted for one day. It was also customary for the priests of Adonis to mutilate themselves in imitation of the god, a distinct proof, if one were needed, of the traditional cause of his death.
Turning from a consideration of the Adonis ritual, its details, and significance, to an examination of the Grail romances, we find that their mise-en-scène provides a striking series of parallels with the Classical celebrations, parallels, which instead of vanishing, as parallels have occasionally an awkward habit of doing, before closer investigation, rather gain in force the more closely they are studied.
Thus the central figure is either a dead knight on a bier (as in the Gawain versions), or a wounded king on a litter; when wounded the injury corresponds with that suffered by Adonis and Attis.
Closely connected with the wounding of the king is the destruction which has fallen on the land, which will be removed when the king is healed. The version of Sone de Nansai is here of extreme interest; the position is stated with so much clearness and precision that the conclusion cannot be evaded–we are face to face with the dreaded calamity which it was the aim of the Adonis ritual to avert, the temporary suspension of all the reproductive energies of Nature.
While the condition of the king is the cause of general and vociferous lamentation, a special feature, never satisfactorily accounted for, is the presence of a weeping woman, or several weeping women. Thus in the interpolated visit of Gawain to the Grail castle, found in the C group of Perceval MSS., the Grail-bearer weeps piteously, as she does also in Diû Crône.
In the version of the prose Lancelot Gawain, during the night, sees twelve maidens come to the door of the chamber where the Grail is kept, kneel down, and weep bitterly, in fact behave precisely as did the classical mourners for Adonis–“Elles sanglotent éperdument pendant la nuit.”–behaviour for which the text, as it now stands, provides no shadow of explanation or excuse. The Grail is here the most revered of Christian relics, the dwellers in the castle of Corbenic have all that heart can desire, with the additional prestige of being the guardians of the Grail; if the feature be not a belated survival, which has lost its meaning, it defies any explanation whatsoever.
In Diû Crône alone, where the Grail-bearer and her maidens are the sole living beings in an abode of the Dead, is any explanation of the ‘Weeping Women’ attempted, but an interpolated passage in the Heralds’ College MS. of the Perceval states that when the Quest is achieved, the hero shall learn the cause of the maiden’s grief, and also the explanation of the Dead Knight upon the bier:
“del graal q’vient aprés
E purquei plure tut adés
La pucele qui le sustient
De la biere qu’aprés vient
Savera la vérité adonques
Ceo que nul ne pot saveir onques Pur nule rien qui avenist.”
Of course in the Perceval there is neither a Weeping Maiden, nor a Bier, and the passage must therefore be either an unintelligent addition by a scribe familiar with the Gawain versions, or an interpolation from a source which did contain the features in question. So far as the texts at our disposal are concerned, both features belong exclusively to the Gawain, and not to the Perceval Quest. The interpolation is significant as it indicates a surviving sense of the importance of this feature.
In the Perlesvaus we have the curious detail of a maiden who has lost her hair as a result of the hero’s failure to ask the question, and the consequent sickness of the Fisher King. The occurrence of this detail may be purely fortuitous, but at the same time it is admissible to point out that the Adonis cults do provide us with a parallel in the enforced loss of hair by the women taking part in these rites, while no explanation of this curious feature has so far as I am aware been suggested by critics of the text.
We may also note the fact that the Grail castle is always situated in the close vicinity of water, either on or near the sea, or on the banks of an important river. In two cases the final home of the Grail is in a monastery situated upon an island. The presence of water, either sea, or river, is an important feature in the Adonis cult, the effigy of the dead god being, not buried in the earth, but thrown into the water.
It will thus be seen that, in suggesting a form of Nature worship, analogous to this well-known cult, as the possible ultimate source from which the incidents and mise-en-scène of the Grail stories were derived, we are relying not upon an isolated parallel, but upon a group of parallels, which alike in incident and intention offer, not merely a resemblance to, but also an explanation of, the perplexing problems of the Grail literature. We must now consider the question whether incidents so remote in time may fairly and justly be utilized in this manner.
Medieval and Modern Forms of Nature Ritual
Readers of the foregoing pages may, not improbably, object that, while we have instanced certain curious and isolated parallels from early Aryan literature and tradition, and, what, from the point of view of declared intention, appears to be a kindred group of religious belief and practice in pre-Historic and Classical times, the two, so far, show no direct signs of affiliation, while both may be held to be far removed, in point of date, alike from one another, and from the romantic literature of the twelfth century.
This objection is sound in itself, but if we can show by modern parallels that the ideas which took form and shape in early Aryan Drama, and Babylonian and Classic Ritual, not only survive to our day, but are found in combination with features corresponding minutely with details recorded in early Aryan literature, we may hold the gulf to be bridged, and the common origin, and close relationship, of the different stages to be an ascertained fact. At the outset, and before examining the evidence collected by scholars, I would remind my readers that the modern Greeks have retained, in many instances under changed names, no inconsiderable portion of their ancient mythological beliefs, among them the ‘Adonis’ celebrations; the ‘Gardens of Adonis’ blossom and fade to-day, as they did many centuries ago, and I have myself spoken with a scholar who has seen ‘women, at the door of their houses, weeping for Adonis.'
For evidence of the widespread character of Medieval and Modern survivals we have only to consult the epoch-making works of Mannhardt, Wald und Feld-Kulte, and Frazer, The Golden Bough; in the pages of these volumes we shall find more than sufficient for our purpose. From the wealth of illustration with which these works abound I have selected merely such instances as seem to apply more directly to the subject of our investigation.
Thus, in many places, it is still the custom to carry a figure representing the Vegetation Spirit on a bier, attended by mourning women, and either bury the figure, throw it into water (as a rain charm), or, after a mock death, carry the revivified Deity, with rejoicing, back to the town. Thus in the Lechrain a man in black women’s clothes is borne on a bier, followed by men dressed as professional women mourners making lamentation, thrown on the village dung-heap, drenched with water, and buried in straw.
In Russia the Vegetation or Year Spirit is known as Yarilo, and is represented by a doll with phallic attributes, which is enclosed in a coffin, and carried through the streets to the accompaniment of lamentation by women whose emotions have been excited by drink. Mannhardt gives the lament as follows: “Wessen war Er schuldig? Er war so gut! Er wird nicht mehr aufstehen! O! Wie sollen wir uns von Dir trennen? Was ist das Leben wenn Du nicht mehr da bist? Erhebe Dich, wenn auch nur auf ein Stündchen! Aber Er steht nicht auf, Er steht nicht auf!”
In other forms of the ritual, we find distinct traces of the resuscitation of the Vegetation Deity, occasionally accompanied by evidence of rejuvenation. Thus, in Lausitz, on Laetare Sunday (the 4th Sunday in Lent), women with mourning veils carry a straw figure, dressed in a man’s shirt, to the bounds of the next village, where they tear the effigy to pieces, hang the shirt on a young and flourishing tree, “schöne Wald-Baum,” which they proceed to cut down, and carry home with every sign of rejoicing. Here evidently the young tree is regarded as a rejuvenation of the person represented in the first instance by the straw figure.
In many parts of Europe to-day the corresponding ceremonies, very generally held at Whitsuntide, include the mock execution of the individual representing the Vegetation Spirit, frequently known as the King of the May. In Bohemia the person playing the rôle of the King is, with his attendants, dressed in bark, and decked with garlands of flowers; at the conclusion of the ceremonies the King is allowed a short start, and is then pursued by the armed attendants. If he is not overtaken he holds office for a year, but if overtaken, he suffers a mock decapitation, head-dress, or crown, being struck off, and the pretended corpse is then borne on a bier to the next village.
Mannhardt, discussing this point, remarks that in the mock execution we must recognize “Ein verbreiteter und jedenfalls uralter Gebrauch.” He enumerates the various modes of death, shooting, stabbing (in the latter case a bladder filled with blood, and concealed under the clothes, is pierced); in Bohemia, decapitation, occasionally drowning (which primarily represents a rain charm), is the form adopted. He then goes on to remark that this ceremonial death must have been generally followed by resuscitation, as in Thuringia, where the ‘Wild Man,’ as the central figure is there named, is brought to life again by the Doctor, while the survival, in the more elaborate Spring processions of this latter character, even where he plays no special rôle, points to the fact that his part in the proceedings was originally a more important one.
That Mannhardt was not mistaken is proved by the evidence of the kindred Dances, a subject we shall consider later; there we shall find the Doctor playing his old-time rôle, and restoring to life the slain representative of the Vegetation Spirit. The character of the Doctor, or Medicine Man, formed, as I believe, at one time, no unimportant link in the chain which connects these practices with the Grail tradition.
The signification of the resuscitation ceremony is obscured in cases where the same figure undergoes death and revival without any corresponding change of form. This point did not escape Mannhardt’s acute critical eye; he remarks that, in cases where, e.g., in Swabia, the ‘King’ is described as “ein armer alter Mann,” who has lived seven years in the woods (the seven winter months), a scene of rejuvenation should follow–“diese scheint meistenteils verloren gegangen; doch vielleicht scheint es nur so.” He goes on to draw attention to the practice in Reideberg, bei Halle, where, after burying a straw figure, called the Old Man, the villagers dance round the May-Pole, and he suggests that the ‘Old Man’ represents the defunct Vegetation Spirit, the May Tree, that Spirit resuscitated, and refers in this connection to the “durchaus verwandten Asiatischen Gebrauchen des Attis, und Adonis-Kultus.”
The foregoing evidence offers, I think, sufficient proof of the, now generally admitted, relationship between Classical, Medieval, and Modern forms of Nature ritual.
But what of the relation to early Aryan practice? Can that, also, be proved?
In this connection I would draw attention to Chapter 17 of Mysterium und Mimus, entitled, Ein Volkstümlicher Umzug beim Soma-Fest. Here Professor von Schroeder discusses the real meaning and significance of a very curious little poem (Rig-Veda, 9. 112); the title by which it is generally known, Alles lauft nach Geld, does not, at first sight, fit the content of the verse, and the suggestion of scholars who have seen in it a humorous enumeration of different trades and handicrafts does not explain the fact that the Frog and the Horse appear in it.
To Professor von Schroeder belongs the credit of having discovered that the personnel of the poem corresponds with extraordinary exactitude to the Figures of the Spring and Summer ‘Fertility-exciting’ processions, described with such fulness of detail by Mannhardt. Especially is this the case with the Whitsuntide procession at Värdegötzen, in Hanover, where we find the group of phallic and fertility demons, who, on Prof. von Schroeder’s hypothesis, figure in the song, in concrete, and actual form. The Vegetation Spirit appears in the song as an Old Man, while his female counterpart, an Old Woman, is described as ‘filling the hand-mill.’ Prof. von Schroeder points out that in some parts of Russia the ‘Baba-jaga’ as the Corn Mother is called, is an Old Woman, who flies through the air in a hand-mill. The Doctor, to whom we have referred above, is mentioned twice in the four verses composing the song; he was evidently regarded as an important figure; while the whole is put into the mouth of a ‘Singer’ evidently the Spokesman of the party, who proclaims their object, “Verschiednes könnend suchen wir Gute Dinge,” i.e., gifts in money and kind, as such folk processions do to-day.
The whole study is of extraordinary interest for Folk-lore students, and so far as our especial investigation is concerned it seems to me to supply the necessary proof of the identity, and persistence, of Aryan folk-custom and tradition.
A very important modification of the root idea, and one which appears to have a direct bearing on the sources of the Grail tradition, was that by which, among certain peoples, the rôle of the god, his responsibility for providing the requisite rain upon which the fertility of the land, and the life of the folk, depended, was combined with that of the King.
This was the case among the Celts; McCulloch, in The Religion of the Celts, discussing the question of the early Irish geasa or taboo, explains the geasa of the Irish kings as designed to promote the welfare of the tribe, the making of rain and sunshine on which their prosperity depended. “Their observance made the earth fruitful, produced abundance and prosperity, and kept both the king and his land from misfortune. The Kings were divinities on whom depended fruitfulness and plenty, and who must therefore submit to obey their ‘geasa.'
The same idea seems to have prevailed in early Greece; Mr A. B. Cook, in his studies on The European Sky-God, remarks that the king in early Greece was regarded as the representative of Zeus: his duties could be satisfactorily discharged only by a man who was perfect, and without blemish, i.e., by a man in the prime of life, suffering from no defect of body, or mind; he quotes in illustration the speech of Odysseus (Od. 19. 109 ff.). “‘Even as a king without blemish, who ruleth god-fearing over many mighty men, and maintaineth justice, while the black earth beareth wheat and barley, and the trees are laden with fruit, and the flocks bring forth without fail, and the sea yieldeth fish by reason of his good rule, and the folk prosper beneath him.’ The king who is without blemish has a flourishing kingdom, the king who is maimed has a kingdom diseased like himself, thus the Spartans were warned by an oracle to beware of a ‘lame reign.'”
A most remarkable modern survival of this idea is recorded by Dr Frazer in the latest edition of The Golden Bough, and is so complete and suggestive that I make no apology for transcribing it at some length. The Shilluk, an African tribe, inhabit the banks of the White Nile, their territory extending on the west bank from Kaka in the north, to Lake No in the south, on the east bank from Fashoda to Taufikia, and some 35 miles up the Sohat river. Numbering some 40,000 in all, they are a pastoral people, their wealth consisting in flocks and herds, grain and millet. The King resides at Fashoda, and