Monday, February 07, 2005

The Holy Grail

In medieval tradition, Prester John ruled over the Garden of Eden, which was not so much a mythical place as a mythologized one. Europeans linked aromatics such as aloeswood, cinnamon, cassia and ginger with Eden. It was also viewed as a type of El Dorado, a tradition going back to the Old Testament:

And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads.

The name of the first is Pishon; that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.

-- Genesis 2

A few centuries after the introduction of the Kalacakra into Tibet possibly by the Shambhala king himself, Prester John sends messengers to the emperors and Pope. At this time, the situation of European Christendom was grave. The expanding Seljuk Turks had administered a crushing defeat to the Byzantime Empire and had even captured Emperor Diogenes in 1091 who was released in an act of magnaminity.

From 1144 to 1187, one Crusader state after the next fell and until Jerusalem, which had been recaptured by the Crusaders, fell in 1187.

Prester John's appearance at this time may have been designed to create hope since that king promised to bring relief to the Christian kings by invading from the East. He claimed to have been Christian, and maybe he was in a syncretic way of thinking. However, Sanfotsi/Zabag had its hands full taking care of things in its own region and was in no position to offer any real assistance.

However, sometimes hope is all that is needed to continue the struggle. In the end, help did come in the form of the great Mongol eruption from Central Asia.

Prester John appears to have created something else designed to psychologically spur the Christian warriors into action. In the romance literature that arose after the letters of the eastern king, we hear of the relic known as the Holy Grail.

Whatever the Holy Grail was, and the literature gives divergent views, it was located somewhere in the farthest Indies. If the Garden of Eden was not enough, surely the Holy Grail could lure the brave soul past Saracen armies to the mysterious East.

Wolfram von Eschenbach, in the early 13th century, first suggested that Titurel, the grandfather of Parzival, had brought the grail back from somewhere "near the Ganges" and founded an order of knights to guard the relic. These knights were known as Templars according to von Eschenbach. In order to make Prester John more palatable to European audiences, he makes that king none other than the nephew of Parzival.

In the same way, other romances sought to Europeanize Prester John. In Jungere Titurel, Parzival becomes the spiritual son of Prester John and assumes his name and throne. In the Dutch Lancelot, Prester John is the son of Parzival. In the Carolingian cycle, Ogier the Dane becomes the linear ancestor of Prester John through is marriage with the local fairy princess.

These traditions show that it in addition to being Christian, Prester John had to be genetically European, or at least partly so to gain acceptance into the literature.

However, von Eschenbach in particular gives us some of the first examples of medieval European forays into a "multicultural" society. Feirefiz, the half-brother of Parzival and father of Prester John in his version is multi-ethnic and said to be of 'polka dot' complexion.

Three "Indians" figure in the story -- the lovely Queen Secundille of Tribalibot and the dark-skinned siblings Cundrie la sorcière and her brother Malcreatiure. Both of the latter are spoken of usually in unflattering terms for their physical appearance.

In some cases, especially with reference to Malcreatiure the obsession with appearance is startling and von Eschenbach feels need to give an explanation for the two emissaries of Secundille. He states that in Tribalibot there are "a great many of these people with distorted faces, and they bore strange, wild marks."

Our father Adam received from God the art of giving names to all things, both the wild and the tame. He knew the nature of each, and the revolutions of the stars as well, and what forces the seven planets had; and he also knew the virtues of all herbs and what the nature of each one was. When his daughters had acquired the power of years and might bear human offspring, he counseled them against intemperance. Whenever one of his daughters bore a child, he warned her repeatedly and rarely spared the admonition, to avoid eating many herbs which would spoil the human fruit and bring shame on his race: "Other than God appointed when He sat at work over me," as he said, "my beloved daughters, be not blinded as to your salvation."

Despite her uncomeliness, Cundrie plays an important role in the work as prophetess, astrologer and healer. Even Malcreatiure is called "the kinsman of the herb and the stars." The two visitors from Tribalibot have valuable knowledge to give regarding the Grail. One fascinating point is that Richard Wagner, a confirmed Indophile, transforms Cundrie into a beautiful enchantress who even tempts the Fisher King centuries later in his opera Parsifal.

The early romances generally agree in placing the Holy Grail in India or the Indies. It is not until the early 14th century that it is first suggested Prester John might be located in Africa.

Von Eschenbach places the Grail in Tribalibot from which it comes for a time to Montsalvat, only to return again to the Indies with Feirefiz and his wife Repanse de Schoye, the sister of the Fisher King. In Titurel, Parzival together with his knights return the Grail and the other holy treasures back to the Indies.

King Arthur together with the whole Grail chivalry take the relic back to the Indies in the farthest "Orient" in Lohengrin, the "Knight of the Swan."

While the Kalacakra Tantra contained instructions on the "art of war," von Eschenbach states that the Templars resided with and guarded the Grail. Was this simply a device of the author or was there some reason for him to have made this statement?

Wolfram von Eschenbach states that his main source was a Provencal bard named Kyot rather than Chretien de Troyes who composed a similar romance, but with major differences, at around 1180. He was said to have been illiterate and to have dictated the story to a transcriber. It was from the mysterious Kyot, thought by some to a fictional device, that Wolfram claimed to have learned the Grail mysteries, which he states were acquired by Kyot in Toledo.

In Toledo, Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived peacefully for centuries. It was here at the great library that many ancient Greek and Roman works were protected from the Inquisition. The city was captured by Alfonso VI in the 11th century and according to Wolfram, Kyot obtained a manuscript in "heathen writing" there which was the source of his knowledge of the Grail.

The manuscript was said to be written by a "heathen" name Flegetanis. On his father's side, he was said to be descended from a heathen "who worshipped a calf." He was also said to have descent from King Solomon of Israel. Wolfram describes him as a skilled astrologer.

Kyot has been identified by many as Guiot de Provins, a troubadour, Cluniac monk and Templar advocate. Wolfram states that after obtaining the heathen manuscript, Kyot found in the chronicles of Anjou the complete story of the family of "Mazadan." It was from these two sources that he composed his song of Parzival.

Mazadan marries a fairy named Terdelaschoye in the land of Feimurgân and they have two sons, Lazaliez and Brickus. The latter becomes the father of Arthur and the elder, the grandfather of Gandin of Anjou, the grandfather of Parzival.

The name Mazadan is mysterious and suggestions of links from Ahura Mazda to Masada have been made. The land of Feimurgân also known as Fêmurgân diu rîche, Fâmorgân and Fata Morgana has the same name as Morgan La Fay of the Arthurian cycles and has been identified with Avalon.

Comparing this to the "orthodox" royal genealogy of the House of Anjou, we have to go to Fulk IV Rechin who admitted he knew nothing of his ancestors. The 12th century is known to have been a time when many noble or newly-noble families concocted hoary lineages for themselves. If we consider Fulk IV as the first count of Anjou, his son Fulk V who became King of Jerusalem through marriage would be the father of Gahmuret i.e., Geoffrey the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty.

This makes sense since Gahmuret, the father of Parzival, is said to have married the childless widow of the emperor, and indeed Geoffrey's wife was Matilda (Maud Augustus) the childless widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V.

However, Titurel, the founder of the Knights Templar, would have to be Baldwin II, the father of Geoffrey's stepmother rather than a relative of Matilda (Herzoloyde). Baldwin II accepted the services of the newly-formed Templars in 1118.

So there was a strong connection between the House of Anjou and the Templars. Three generations ruled Jerusalem until the house went extinct and the city passed by marriage to the House of Lusignan. Von Eschenbach's tale is easily related to the historical events and the few inconsistencies may have been inserted to protect him from any accusations.

The lands of Zabag, and the rest of the Indies for that matter, had been cut off from the Christian world within a century of the rise of Islam. However, as the Muslim literature readily attests, the Islamic kingdoms had frequent intercourse with these eastern realms. When the Crusaders managed to capture regions of Palestine and Syria, lines of communication reopened that had been lost for centuries.

We first hear of formal contacts from the east when a certain Patriarch John of India in 1122 visited Rome. Magister Philippus, the papal doctor, encountered emissaries of Prester John while on a trip to the "East." When the Pope sent him back with a letter for the King of the Indies, Philippus was last seen in Palestine in 1177.

One interesting account that comes out in the 14th century is that of the so-called Sir John of Mandeville. The text is thought to be a collection of stories from travelers to the East after the opening of the trade routes by the Mongols.

Mandeville mentions priests of "Ind" (India) in the city of Jerusalem along the Via Dolorosa:

And on these grees went our Lord when he bare the cross on his shoulder. And under these grees is a chapel, and in that chapel sing priests, Indians, that is to say, priests of Ind, not after our law, but after theirs; and alway they make their sacrament of the altar, saying, PATER NOSTER and other prayers therewith; with the which prayers they say the words that the sacrament is made of, for they ne know not the additions that many popes have made; but they sing with good devotion.

He mentions merchants from India that came by sea to Damascus, but most interesting is what he has to say about Prester John "Emperor of Ind" regarding the origin of his name:

It was sometime an emperor there, that was a worthy and a full noble prince, that had Christian knights in his company, as he hath that is now. So it befell, that he had great list for to see the service in the church among Christian men. And then dured Christendom beyond the sea, all Turkey, Syria, Tartary, Jerusalem, Palestine, Arabia, Aleppo and all the land of Egypt. And so it befell that this emperor came with a Christian knight with him into a church in Egypt. And it was the Saturday in Whitsun-week. And the bishop made orders. And he beheld, and listened the service full tentively. And he asked the Christian knight what men of degree they should be that the prelate had before him. And the knight answered and said that they should be priests. And then the emperor said that he would no longer be clept king ne emperor, but priest, and that he would have the name of the first priest that went out of the church, and his name was John. And so ever-more sithens, he is clept Prester John.

So like the Shambhala king Sripala, Prester John is also said to have ventured abroad personally, and I would say for the cause of the clan! Mandeville states this happened before the Muslim invasion of Egypt, so maybe it is not particularly relevant to the Templars. But notice that according to this work, Prester John also had apparently Western Christian knights in Mandeville's time. This would agree with the letters of Prester John that state the king had Templars in his service.

Paul Kekai Manansala