Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Holy Grail III

Many theories have been put forward on the origin of the Grail. Links to Manicheanism, Mandeanism and pre-Christian European religions among others have been suggested.

However, we must remember that Wolfram connects the Grail firmly with the Far East and "India." That is the region where it originated and returned, and from which those most knowing of the relic, particularly Cundrie, have come. Certainly other influences abound in the work.

Cundrie, for example, not only speaks the language of far-off Tribalibot, but is fluent in Arabic and knows the names of the stars in that language.

One interesting study by Henry and Renee Kahane, in collaboration with Angelina Pietrangeli, links the Grail with the Krater of the Corpus Hermeticum. The Hermetic texts are said to be ancient Egyptian works translated into Alexandrian Greek.

The word "krater" from which we get English crater can refer either to a stone mixing bowl, or to the mouth of a volcano. Kahane et al., stress the mixing bowl but the text they use from the Hermetic literature suggests something more like Plato's vulcanic krater which was said to contain the light of the Sun. The following is a conversation between Tat (Thoth) and Hermes taken from the Hermetic texts:

Tat: Tell me then, father, why did God not impart intellect to all men?

Hermes: It was his will, my son, that intellect should be placed in the midst as a prize that human souls may win.

Tat: And where did he place it?

Hermes: He filled a great Krater with intellect, and sent it down to earth; and he appointed a herald, and bade him make proclamation to the hearts of man: "Dip yourself in this Krater, you who are able; you who believe that you will ascend to Him who sent this Krater down; you who know for what purpose you have been born." Now they who have heed to the proclamation and were baptized in intellect, those men got a share of gnosis, and they became perfect men because they received intellect. But those who failed to heed the proclamation, those are they who possess the gift of communication and reasoning, to be sure, but not more, since they have not received intellect and know not for what purpose they have been made, nor by whom they have been made. The sensations of these men are very close to those of beasts without reason, and since their temper is in a state of passion and anger, they do not admire the things worthy of contemplation; they give heed only to bodily pleasures and desires, and believe that man has been born for such things as these. But as many as have partaken of the gift which God has sent, these, O Tat ... they see the Good ... Such, O Tat, is the science of the intellect, which provides an abundant possession of things divine and the comprehension of God, for the Krater is divine.

The Krater as something one would take a dip in reminds one of a lake formed in the caldera of a volcano. It is also obviously a location that one must strive to reach:

Hermes: "...Do you see, my son, through how many bodies we have to make our way, and through how many troops of demons, through which continuous succession, and through how many courses of stars, in order to press on to the One-and-Only?"

As on Heaven, so on Earth and within the Body. The Krater of the volcano represents the alchemical ideal as found on Earth where the elixir is created. To journey to the Krater, and to bathe in its waters, is to self-identify with the Earthly model of what one desires to create within. It is the same type of self-identification that the Tantric practitioner and shaman strive to achieve.

The same purpose would be served by the grail, cintamani, anting-anting or mutya (pearl) in that the object represents the acquisition of the inner goal or desire.

The herald appointed to proclaim the Krater, I would say, is none other than Prester John himself. He is descended from Manalastas "the herald" of rooster totem on his father's side. The way he proclaims it though may be a bit more subdued and subtle than a rooster announcing the rising Sun.

The sacred bath or dip in a lake, river or ocean is a common theme found in examples like the Kumbha Mela of India and the Bayung Danum of Apung Iru. The specific idea of a herald calling people to take a sacred dip reminds us of John the Baptist. We saw that two persons named John from the Indies appear after the start of the Crusades -- one named Patriarch John and the other Prester (Priest) John.

In addition to the explanation given by Mandeville, there were other ideas on how Prester John acquired his name. These include theories connecting him with John the Baptist or the St. John who wrote Revelations.

It's said that not long after the Crucifixion
a man who had never seen death made his way to Asia
where he founded a huge and puissant Christian kingdom.
Some people believe this man was John the Baptist
while others say he was Our Lord's favorite disciple.
All we know is that someplace in Asia he still reigns,
untouched by age, and calls himself Prester John;
and most of us would surrender everything we possess
for the priviledge of entering his settlement.

-- Evan S. Connell, Points for a Compass Rose

The idea of the ageless John may also be behind the name of the "Wandering Jew" - John Butta Deus. However, Prester John may have been like the Baptist in other ways. He mentions in his famous letter of 1165 some fantastic sacred water-spots connected with his kingdom:

Between the sandy sea and the said mountians, in a certain plain, is a fountain of singular virtue which purges Christians and would-be Christians from all transgressions. The water stands four inches high in a hollow stone shaped like a mussel-shell. Two saintly old men watch by it and ask the comers whether they are Christians or are about to become Christians, then whether they desire healing with all their hearts. If they have answered well, they are bidden to lay aside their clothes and to step into the mussel. If what they said be true, then the water begins to rise and gush over their heads. Thrice does the water thus lift itself, and everyone who has entered the mussel leaves it cured of every complaint.

Another location near "Mt. Olympus" is a fountain of youth, and stones that restore sight:

At the foot of Mount Olympus bubbles up a spring which changes its flavor hour by hour, night and day, and the spring is scarcely three days' journey from Paradise, out of which Adam was driven. If anyone has tasted thrice of the fountain, from that day he will feel no fatigue, but will, as long as he lives, be as a man of thirty years. Here are found the small stones called Nudiosi which, if borne about the body, prevent the sight from waxing feeble and restore it where it is lost. The more the stone is looked at, the keener becomes the sight.

And yet another site is linked with a mysterious underground cave system and also special precious stones:

Near the wilderness trickles between barren mountians a subterranean rill which can only by chance be reached, for only occassionally the earth gapes, and he who would descend must do it with precipitation, ere the earth closes again. All that is gathered under the ground there is gem and precious stone. The brook pours into another river and the inhabitants of the neighborhood obtain thence abundance of precious stones. Yet they never venture to sell them without having first offered them to us for our private use. Should we decline them, they are at liberty to dispose of them to strangers. Boys there are trained to remain three of four days under the water, diving after the stones.

The fantastic nature of the claims is rather common in writing of the times, however, we might deduce from Prester John's letter is that he is creating a great desire to visit his kingdom. All the classic temptations to venture to the East are included. Was this a strategic move on the part of the "King of the Three Indias?"

It is also worth noting that the Templars were accused of worshipping John the Baptist. Some claimed the skull known as Baphomet and allegedly revered by the Templars, was believed by them to be that of the Baptist.

The Johannites and Mandeans openly worshipped the Baptist placing him higher than Christ. These two groups have been linked by some with the Qumram community that existed a few centuries before Christ and practiced a ritual baptism of initiation. It may be that Prester John related his own position as priest-king of the holy Krater, as Apung Iru, with that of the Baptist.

The connection of the Christian baptism with the Biblical flood ((I Pet. 3:19-20) reminds us of the Bayung Danum festival celebrated during the yearly flood season. The flooding waters renew the earth for the New Year, and, through self-identification, the waters of the river renew the individual also.

The Krater

Paul Kekai Manansala


Badia, Leonard F., The Qumran baptism and John the Baptist's baptism, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1980.

Kahane, Henry and Renée. The Krater and the Grail: Hermetic Sources of the Parzival, University of Illinois Press, 1984.