Grail as the Prehistoric 'Goddess'
"Exactly." Langdon smiled. "The
Grail is literally the ancient symbol for womanhood, and the Holy
Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course
has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church. The power
of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred,
but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church,
and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. It
was man, not God, who created the concept of 'original sin,' whereby
Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race.
Woman, once the sacred giver of life, was now the enemy."
(Chapter 56, p. 238)
Here Brown is
drawing on The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler. Eisler
fully accepts and expands on the idea of a prehistoric past where
women ruled the world in peace and harmony in a matriarchal utopia
until men spoiled things by seizing control and bringing in patriarchal,
god-oriented religions, war, oppression and the suppression of all
things feminine. While this version of prehistory is appealing to
some feminists and neo-pagans, it is regarded as largely a modern
fantasy by anthropologists and archaeologists, who see Eisler's
construct as reflecting her own modern concerns and desires rather
than being an accurate or even plausible view of prehistory.
Real Holy Grail
"The Grail," Langdon said, "is
symbolic of the lost goddess. When Christianity came along, the
old pagan religions did not die easily. Legends of chivalric quests
for the lost Grail were in fact stories of forbidden quests to find
the lost sacred feminine. Knights who claimed to be "searching
for the chalice" were speaking in code as a way to protect
themselves from a Church that had subjugated women, banished the
Goddess, burned nonbelievers, and forbidden the pagan reverence
for the sacred feminine."
(Chapter 56, p. 238-39)
of chivalric quests for the lost Grail' were just that: legends.
Brown has Langdon claim that knights actually went on such quests,
that these were coded references to 'find the lost sacred feminine'
and these knights actually knew the true, encoded meaning of 'the
This is pure
nonsense. No-one in the Middle Ages went on 'quests for the lost
Grail' anymore than anyone today flies to London to try to meet
James Bond. Like James Bond, the 'Holy Grail' was simply an element
in a number of works of fantasy fiction. Even if a medieval knight
was deluded or insane enough to confuse that recent fantasy fiction
with history, they would know that the Grail stories tell of how
the Grail was removed from the world in 'King Arthur's time' (ie
centuries earlier), so any 'quests for the lost Grail' would be
utterly pointless. The picture Brown paints of actual medieval quests
for 'the Grail'/'the sacred feminine' is totally baseless and seems
to come entirely from Brown's imagination.
Origin of the Grail Stories
know precisely when and how the Grail stories arose and developed.
The Grail first appears in a work of chivalric fantasy fiction in
Chrétien de Troyes' fictional romance, Perceval, le Conte
du Graal, which he wrote sometime between 1180 and 1191. This
was one of a number of stories which were written about the legendary
knights of King Arthur and which were immensely popular in the late
Middle Ages. It was the fifth and final romance written by Chrétien
and it remained unfinished. It tells of the adventures of Perceval,
a youth raised by his mother in the forest who encounters some knights
and resolves to travel to King Arthur's court to join the Knights
of the Round Table. Obtaining knighthood at Camelot, Sir Perceval
set out on a series of adventures.
On his travels,
Perceval is invited to dine with a mysterious figure called 'the
Fisher King'. During the meal he sees a strange procession consisting
of a young man with a bleeding lance, two boys with candles and
finally a beautiful girl carrying a 'graal'. Chrétien does
not make it clear to the reader precisely what this 'graal' is,
but the Old French word can refer to a cup, a dish or a serving
Later, on his
return to Camelot, Perceval is admonished by a strange old woman
for failing to ask the Fisher King about the 'graal', saying the
right question could have healed the King's wounded father. The
story then switches rather abruptly to some adventures of another
of Arthur's knights, Sir Gawain, before returning briefly to Sir
Perceval and then breaking off.
It is important
to note that the story never mentions anything about this 'graal'
or 'Grail' being the cup of Christ, nor does it make it clear that
it is a cup at all. The significance of the mysterious 'Grail' is
never explained and Chrétien never finished the story before
he died. Chrétien never refers to the object as 'the
Grail', let alone 'the Holy Grail', but simply as 'a
grail' and it is entirely unclear what significance he thought it
would have in the end of the story.
Chrétien's fantasy became immensely popular, possibly partly
because it was never finished and the 'Grail' was never explained.
Perceval was continued and 'finished' by no less than four later
poets, who all gave it different endings; all of varying quality.
Chrétien's story inspired other poets to write romances on
the same themes, and it was Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie
(written sometime between 1191 and 1202) which gave us the beginnings
of 'the Holy Grail' of later folklore. It is De Boron's work which
makes Chrétien's simple 'graal' /'grail' into a cup and describes
it as the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, brought to Britain
by Joseph of Arimathea.
Over the next
three centuries various other versions of the story appeared. Wolfram
von Eschenbach's German Parzival combined elements of both
Chrétien's original and Robert de Boron's more Christian
version, though in his story the 'Grail' is not a serving dish or
a cup but a stone. It was not until the writing of the French Estoire
del Saint Grail ('The History of the Holy Grail') that the main
elements of the Grail legend best known today appear. It was this
version which was used as a source for Sir Thomas Malory's Middle
English Le Morte d'Arthur version of the story, which in
turn inspired the modern retellings of Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson
and various others.
There is some
speculation that Chrétien's story may have been inspired
by earlier Celtic legends of magical cauldrons, but it is difficult
to see where he got his ideas from. What is clear is that his story
made no connection between the 'Grail' of his story and the cup
of Jesus. That development happened after his death via a process
of evolution and a tendency for all of the Arthurian fantasies to
increasingly develop Christian symbolism. Nothing in any of the
Grail stories connects the Grail to Mary Magdalene (though it does
connect it to other Biblical figures) and there is no evidence to
connect this vague and evolving set of fantasy stories to anything
about a 'holy bloodline', let alone any ancient 'sacred feminine'.
It was not until
the Twentieth Century that amateur theorists first made an attempt
at connecting the 'Grail' with the totally separate medieval legends
about Mary Magdalene and invented the theory of the 'Grail' as a
code for a supposed bloodline of Jesus.
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