The Quest for the Holy Grail
A New Cultural Model for Love and Sex
by Lady Galadriel and Lord Athanor
The Quest for the grail is man's quest for the woman within, and for initiation. It may be compared to the practice of Shamanism, Drudism and Wicca, for indeed it is a cognate - and, to some extent, an outgrowth - of these mystery religions. The sexual symbolism of the Grail is obvious. The Grail is the fertilized womb of the Mother Goddess, which will give life to all creatures of the world. As the greatest English poet of the last 150 years puts it:
"I am that which began;
Out of me the years roll;
Out of me God and man
I am equal and whole;
God changes, and man, and the form of
of them bodily; I am the soul...
First life on my sources
First drifted and swam;
Out of me are the forces
That save it or damn;
Out of me men and women, and wild beast
and bird; before God was I am."
The bleeding spear is the masculine element; and, at the end of the Quest spear and chalice unite to restore the wasted land to its fertility. This is the direct outgrowth of the role of woman as Muse or Goddess of Inspiration. The questing knight, upon seeing the grail, is supposed to ask the question, "Whom does the Grail serve?" The answer is: "It serves the Goddess, for she and the land are one." By answering this question correctly, the knight gains initiation into the mysteries of the Goddess, and becomes King, the potent quickener and transformer of the land he rules by the gift of the Mother.
Celtic society was still functioning according to matrilineal law when the Romans invaded the British Isles about two millennia ago. There is solid evidence throughout Celtic legends that women of that culture have consistently taken a less restricted role within public life than did their Greek and Roman sisters. They are queens, princesses, prophetesses; they are maids, servants, and peasants; they are also workers, educators, horsewomen, and warriors. Women do not appear to be ostracized within the old Celtic culture as they were, and are, in the present day. We must ask ourselves how we have reached this state. Of several possible answers, perhaps the most telling is that we, in the western civilization, have arrived here by ignoring woman's role as priestess and initiatrix. How and why this happened forms no part of this essay; but the reader may wish to recall that nearly all the traditions of the west are founded on the high culture of Athens (458 - 407 B.C.E.) - with its principled misogyny and its cult of male homosexuality. Whether we like it or not, the male chauvinism of Athens was inseparable from its genius. And its accomplishments were transported, bag and baggage, into Rome,where they became the cultural ideal of almost every educated man. Rome fell, but, as educators are fond of pointing out, its culture was preserved for us by the church. And much of it is still with us.
The question today is not what women can do in society - for we know that women can, in fact, do almost anything; can occupy any position, provided they have the necessary qualifications. Rather, the problem lies in finding a new balance between men and women; not to enable us to put up with each other, but so that we can work together towards something more exciting for both. There is a total personal liberation beyond and above mere social liberation, but it requires a dramatic change in the roles of men and women, and therefore it necessitates a thorough reconsideration of the role of sexuality.
In attempting to free the position of women in society, the feminist movement often tends to forget, or perhaps ignore, the psychological factors peculiar to women. These factors are, of course, conditioned by education, environment, culture, religion, instinct, and desire. The most ardent feminists often claim that they achieve their equality by functioning just like men. In our judgment, they have in fact fallen into the trap of denying their own sex. The plain and simple truth is that women are not men, and while males and females are equal in many ways, equality does not imply interchangeability, like so many machine parts cut from the same jig. Equal we are, and equal we shall be; but so, too, are we different; not simply in our bodies, but also in our psychological make-up.
An essential element of being female - some would say the essential element - is the biological fact that woman gives life. She is therefore a creatrix, even though the act of creation, like all things human, is itself relative. In the Celtic world view, the corollary of woman as creatrix was woman as the initiatrix and transformer - a deliverer. A woman's transformation of a man brings a type of new birth, a new life. The woman fulfilled this role through the emotion of love, through the sacerdotal use of sex, and through what we will call religious and ceremonial technique. Readers with a basic understanding of Wicca and/or other mystery religions will grasp this reference with no difficulty.
One of the most urgent problems in todays world is the vast constellation of confusion and repression and sheer uncertainty revolving around issues of marriage, sex and love. No small part of the problem is the fact that we persist in yoking love and sex "like a horse and carriage" - in spite of the brutal reality that while sex and love may exist together, the presence of one does not automatically necessitate the presence of the other.
We know that many great sages, mystics, and visionaries have developed the themes of sex and love as a spiritual path. Properly channeled and controlled, the power of eroticism can lead to the liberation of the higher self through certain kinds of sexual relationships, through the energizing and transforming power of disciplined orgasm, which finds its highest consummation in the act of giving one knowledge of the one's own sexuality. The sexual act was long ago recognized by pagans as one valid to the ecstatic union with deity. It was a sacred act of magic, a true sacrament, and the basis of a religious transformation. Even in ordinary life, the transformation that a man undergoes with a woman is (or can be) a rebirth after the "little death" of the orgasm; and as such, it often brings to a man a rediscovery of the world, of other people, and of himself. In short, it gives new knowledge and insight. If the sexual function is to be consciously cultured as a special means of knowledge and discovery, of transformation and purification, it becomes desirable and necessary that it now be freed of the surplus of shame and guilt with which it is presently burdened.
The first step towards this end is for women to achieve a sexual equilibrium, aside from the roles dictated by today's society. Stated as bluntly as possible, a woman's body must belong to herself alone - and she must discover what suits her - she must get to know herself. This, of course, is easy to say and hard to do, and it is flatly impossible unless she has the freedom to choose her sensuality - whether it shall be directed towards conception and motherhood, or towards pure eroticism. Both were functions of the ancient priestess's of the Goddess, although today only the former is socially sanctioned, and even then under masculine terms and, tastes, and biases.
Woman is an initiatrix - or rather, she would be one, if it were not for the fact that, in the west, our deepest instincts and natural disposition have been stifled. In the many myths and legends of the world it is woman who is repeatedly shown as the awakener and transformer, utilizing the powers of love and desire to create a new level of consciousness for, and within, her chosen man. And in so doing she also awakens and transforms herself.
By its very nature love reaches out towards the other, or others, with its power of attraction. When love does not include this reaching out, it becomes egotistical, a possessive passion. Western love is warped by this narrow vision, which originally stemmed from the historical causes we suggested above. Possessive jealousy is the logical, and perhaps the inevitable, result of what is called a "Christian" form of marriage; an exclusive love in which two people become each others "property". This has left its mark on both the locutions of marriage and vocabulary of love; as in such phrases as, "You belong to me," or "Take me, I'm yours." The implication is that one's spouse or lover is valued, not at all for pleasure or joy, and surely not as a self which is also a divine flame, but simply as an extremely useful and expensive domestic animal.
The Celtic understanding of love and fidelity was altogether different, and grew out if their differing social structure and values. Love was viewed primarily as a matter of loyalty given to a freely chosen person, who was loved unconditionally, so to speak. Temporary liaisons could be explained by sexual desire, or by an emotional quest different from the bond uniting the original couple. But sexual affairs were not normally the cause of failed relationships, as they often are today. The notion of jealousy does not arise in the older Celtic texts and legends. Within this framework, the chosen person, to whom one always returns, and for whom one always has a special feeling and relationship, was not seen as a barrier to other adventures of emotion, which in no way lessened the relationship of the two people in question. There are even a number of recent memorials where the fires of the old Celtic tradition burn as brightly as ever, as readers of Ulysses and the later poems and plays of Yeats will be aware.
Every human being, male or female, is intrinsically free. This is something which the ancient Celts understood, and their relationships are of mutual entrapment and slavery. Men were taught, and came to believe, that they had the right to own women physically and sexually while in compensation women had the right to manipulate every man in sight to her hearts content. Perhaps what is even sadder is that after centuries of conditioning, the women was happy to be owned, and the man more than happy to be manipulated. Yet it is this very attitude which sets up the possessive and jealous nature of marriage, sex, and love, and which closed the channel (temporarily) for the spiritual initiation of man and woman via each other.
In the Celtic tradition, once a woman has chosen her man, her attitude becomes one of watchfulness and waiting. She is first and foremost the protectress of those she chooses to love, whether they be sweethearts, husbands, or sons. It really matter very little which of these her man is - for the response is much the same, This is the great lesson femininity teaches us - that love is altruistic, and she who loves will make a thousand sacrifices for the beloved, by her choice, and not as a consequence forced upon her. Love is creation, a continuous creation, by which the woman makes the man, body, heart and soul. With all his inherent compulsive egoism, man knows that he is inadequate solely on his own, and that the path to fulfillment is through the woman he loves - the chosen companion who originally gave him life, and who, through love, will give him life again - and give it to him in a richer and better form.