The Holy-Grail Games -
From Troyes to Jerusalem
Dr. Yitzhak Hayut-Man
The following article is intended to shed light on the myth of the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail. It is an update to an article that appeared originally, in Hebrew, in the monthly Hayim Aherim (Alternative Living) of December 1998.
It is now connected with an ongoing communal effort by a vast number of participants in an interactive Internet game whose players become the Knights of the Quest, gathered around Round Tables - virtual and actual - to solve the problems of planet Earth.
What do the World Cup Games and the Messianic doctrine of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe have in common? Both originated in the same place - the city of Troyes.
The city of Troyes (in Yiddish, 'Troish') is situated in the region of Champagne in the north of France. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries it served as a focal point for the reemergence of European culture, Jewish and Christian alike. After the destruction and economic devastation of the crusades and the overwhelming defeat of the homeward bound crusaders, after the pogroms perpetrated against the Jews, a spirit of renewal took hold and new ideas were born. To my mind, the cultural creativity that existed in Troyes 800 years ago can still serve us at the 21st century.
'Rashi', Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi, the well known and most widely accepted commentator of Scripture and Talmud, was born in Troyes. There he established his great house of learning and set the groundwork, based on ancient scripture, that had ramifications for Judaism and the Jewish way of life for hundreds of years after him. His work became so identified with scripture that when the last Admor of Lubavitch sought to distinguish himself among his predecessors, he did so through the application of Rashi's commentaries. In hundreds of treatises he introduces Rashi as the source of the HaBaD (Chabad) messianic doctrine.
The poet Cretien (‘Christian’, or the 'messianic') was also born and raised in Troyes in the time of Rashi. He became known as 'Cretien of Troyes', and he was instrumental in introducing the literature of the grail, later called the 'Holy Grail', and established it as the focal point of European creativity at that time.
Cretien changed the Pagan-Celtic influences from the story of the grail and created in their place, if I may use the modern expression, the 'European Cup' of poetics. After the publication of his five great epics, the most important of which was 'Percival, or The Story of the Grail', poets from all over Europe answered to the challenge and within a few decades at least a dozen great poetic works dealing with the knights of the Round Table were created. The recurring motif of all these tales is the trials and adventures of the twelve knights, a brotherhood of chivalry, equality and mutual support embodied in the Round Table. All are the faithful, heroic subjects of the ailing Fisher King who sends them out in search of the 'Holy Object', the 'Ray and the Vessel of Unlimited Abundance', the 'Chalice of Life'.
Cretien introduced the pagan story of the grail, but the saga still had to undergo Christianization in order to be accepted by the Europeans. The Christianized version was offered by even another representative of Troyes, Bernard de Clairvaux. It was in Troyes that Bernard assembled the elders of the church to ratify the new Order of the Temple Knights, the 'Templars'. He also established the Cistercian Order in which he and his brother monks were dedicated to reconciling the myth of the Holy Grail with its Christian counterpart, the cup of Jesus.
The mysterious grail of the pagan myth was thus transformed into the vessel wherein Joseph of Arimathaea gathered the blood of Jesus, crucified and wounded by the spear of the Roman sentinel Longinus. It was somehow also designated as the cup used by Jesus at the last supper.
The relationship of Joseph of Arimathaea and the Holy Grail was elaborated on by another poet of the time, Robert de Boron. It was he who first introduced it into British folklore and from here on, most of the grail stories would be tied to Britain and the court of the legendary King Arthur.
The story is told of Joseph of Arimathaea on whose estate Jesus was buried. Joseph escaped with the family of the 'Christ', along with the grail, to Glastonbury in England, where he founded the first Christian church in Europe – and apparently also the secret Chivalric Order of the Keepers of the Holy Gail.
In yet another Christian grail romance, 'Le Queste de San Graal', a strange legend is told of the Tree of Life and the Grail. In this tale the grail is attributed not to Jesus but to King Solomon. From Solomon it is traced directly to the court of King Arthur and to the virgin knight, Galahad. In the legend, Solomon is told that in two thousand years the perfect hero will be born from his seed. Solomon sought to bequeath his offspring a worthy gift. He built a ship and places within it a wondrous sword and a bed fashioned from the Tree of Life. He had set it afloat in the sea until the knight Galahad found it. Galahad, the knight who merits the miraculous vision of the flying Grail, and as a result was transported to Heaven. This legend thus served to connect the British Grail hero to the house of David.
The Christian interpretation of the Holy Grail soon engraved itself into the collective psyche of European culture for centuries to come. thus, after the appearance of Wagner’s opera 'Percival', Nietzsche vehemently charged him with Christian sympathies. Nietzsche accused Wagner of betraying the quest of the antichrist that Nitzche upheld, and was adopted in Wagner’s 'Nibelung Ring’ trilogy.
No one really knows the origin of the word 'grail'. In the book 'The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail', the authors Lincoln, Baigent and Lee suggest that the term 'san gral' is a distortion of the Spanish 'sang real', or 'royal blood'. They claim 'royal blood' refers to the womb of Mary Magdalene, who carried within her the son of Jesus. Here is a clear feminine inference that implies male/female union, or in its exalted aspect, no less than the union of heaven and earth. For those of us who speak Hebrew it is hard to ignore the similarity between the word grail and 'goral', fate.
Wolfram Von Eschenbach, a German poet living fifty years after Cretien of Troyes, elaborated on the myth by describing the grail (as in the 19th century opera 'Percival') as a precious stone descended from heaven. However, most of the literature from the middle ages - under Christian influence - envisioned the grail as a vessel, most likely a cup, the same one over which Jesus entreated his disciples to "drink all of you from this, it is my blood..." (Matthew, 26).
Wolfram Von Eschenbach took Cretien of Troyes rendition of the grail, combined it with the Christian version, entered them both into an alchemical framework and added psycho-spiritual depth to the story. In the introduction to his romance, Von Eschenbach challenges Cretien and discredits his sources. He traces the source of his own tale back to a Jew living one thousand years before Jesus, who handed it down to Muslim sages, who in turn passed it on to the initiated in Provence, in the south of France. The poet himself, claimed to have received it from a knight of Provence named Kyot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyot).
The tale is of the quest. In reaction to his knight father's violent death, the innocent knight Percival is protected from any exposure to the Order by his uncle and mother. But fate determines his true calling. After chancing upon a group of knights, he runs away from home. Then, in search of armor, he accidentally kills his father's murderer whose red armor he claims for his own.
From here on begins Percival's quest; all the while being instructed by a fisherman that he meets. He is sent to the Court of the King, who is secretly that fisherman himself. There he is called upon to ask those right questions that would bring healing and redemption to the king and the kingdom. But Percival had been raised not to ask questions, and so the castle disappears along with all its inhabitants, and he is left on his own to continue the quest.
Wolfram Von Eschenbach was himself a member of the Templar order and visited their fortresses in the Holy Land. He attributed the source of his story to Provence (the land of the Knights Templar and the place where the first known Qabbalah work, the Sefer Ha'Bahir, appeared). It was also in Provence that the 'troubadours', the medieval lyric poets, told their tales and taught the people tarot divination. (Tarot is the source of the play card deck as it is known today, after it was censored by the church. The major Arcanum – which has entirely disappeared from the present day card game - originally incorporated 22 cards that were claimed by early 20th centoory esotericists to be connected to the 22 Hebrew letters. The minor Arcanum, the remnant of which we can find in the modern playing card deck, included a suite of cups (the modern 'hearts') along with suits of wands, swords and coins.)
The 'Holy Grail' served to inspire artists throughout the centuries. The eminent modern day poet, T.S. Eliot used the grail as a metaphor in his great poem 'The Wasteland'. The work paraphrases the quest of the modern day knight, whose search for the lost grail is essentially a search for himself. In his notes, Eliot acknowledges the influence of the book 'From Ritual to Romance' by Jenny Weston, which uncovered pagan influences - Isis and Osiris rituals, worship of Ashera and Tammuz - in the grail quest that for centuries had been claimed as classic Christian lore. (Ms. Weston also suggests that when the Knights Templar resided in the east they were witness to rites of death and resurrection that were later incorporated into their own ceremonies.)
Even today, many books are being written every year about the holy grail. Perhaps it is the search for what is missing in our modern culture that inspires and intrigues so many. A Google search brings over 24 milion (!) articles and links pertaining to the Grail. There are even those who are actively engaged in the search, wandering the expanses of Europe - particularly the south of Spain and Provence - and some continuing on to the Holy Land. A young Englishman, whom I once met in Israel, has dedicated more than ten years of his life in search of the grail. He came to believe that the grail is but the image of the whole living earth that is innate in each of us.
How then, can we contribute something new to the revelation of the grail? Our location in th Land of Israel, with natural affinity for scripture and the Hebrew language, give us important perspectives, which many of even the best who have searched for the grail lacked. To my mind, a renewal of the order of the knights of the Round Table - here and now - could bring peace and blessing to the Holy Land.
To begin with, we shall call our attention to the cup mentioned in Genesis, in the story of Joseph and his brothers. This was no ordinary cup, but a magical one with whose help Joseph was able to divine the future of his brothers, who did not recognize him.
Joseph seated his brothers (who had come to Egypt in search of food) in the order of their birth, a circle of ten. The circle is incomplete, as Joseph and his younger brother Benjamin were seated apart. Benjamin's place was notably singular: of the twelve places designated at the legendary Round Table, there was one assigned to the chosen one - he whose fate it was to find the grail - and woe to the one who was not worthy of the task! Christian tradition attributes this place to Judas Iscariot. Judas was destined, unwittingly, to betray Jesus. Benjamin, unknowingly, betrayed Joseph when among his belongings - upon leaving Egypt with his brothers - was found the missing treasure, Joseph's divining cup. Jesus knew of Judas’ betrayal even before Judas knew it. Joseph organized Benjamin's seeming betrayal before the latter knew it. The cup that was planted among his belongings transformed Benjamin into the unwitting carrier of the grail. Having no choice but to return with it to Egypt, the cup was instrumental in bringing about the reunion of Joseph with his brothers and renewing the covenant of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.
On first meeting his brothers, Joseph accuses them of spying. They defend themselves in a most surprising way. They do not bring proof or bear witness as to their good name. They contend their innocence by claiming "we, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man from the land of Canaan. The youngest is with his father, and another is not among us" (Genesis 42:11). In other words, we are not the ten that you see, but actually a part of twelve. For the Jews, descended from the tribe of Judah, the number ten (the traditional quorum for communal prayer) would be the convincing number. That Joseph evidently is not of the Tribe of Judah. In fact the opposite is true. The nation of Israel, destined to stand in conflict with Judah, was descended from Joseph.
But the brothers do not suspect that the Egyptian regent whom they have met is their lost brother. And they certainly do not know (as they do not wield the magical cup) what the future holds for them.
The English author and earth mysteries investigator, John Michell, has dealt extensively with the number twelve. Although the number ten is seemingly easier to access in comparison - ten fingers, ten toes; even the essential human form is made up of five (one head, two arms and two legs) - it is more difficult to divide. Made up of the numbers 2 and 5, it is almost never represented in nature at large - whereas the number twelve is more easily divided (made up of 2, 3, 4 and 6) and serves as a natural component. Many of nature's systems are constructed from components of twelve (the twelve cycles of the moon, the snowflake and the beehive cell, each consisting of six points). In other words, the system of ten is of a human order while the system of twelve is more rooted in nature. Twelve is the numerical system on which the legendary Round Table is based, as is the table of Joseph.
All this leads us to surmise that it was not Joseph of Arimathaea who founded the order of the grail, but Joseph son of Jacob, who planted its pattern. It would have been natural for Jesus son of Joseph, potential messiah of the second temple period, to be mindful of Joseph's cup when he enacted his last supper.
One thousand years later, and thousands of miles from Jerusalem, two myths connected with Jerusalem were born. The order of the Holy Grail and the Treasures of the Temple guarded by Templar Knights are both rooted in the mystical tradition of the Holy City. In an earlier article about the Templars, I showed the role of Bernard of Clairvaux in helping to create the legend of the Hidden Treasure of the temple and his dedication to the Song of Solomon. This time we meet him as the founder of the Christian myth of the Holy Grail. Is there a connection between the two? Could it be that the hidden treasure of the temple is none other than the Holy Grail? Or is it only that clear sense that there must be something distant, unattainable, that gives meaning to Life?
The nearness, in place and time, of Bernard of Clairveax and Rashi of Troyes, and the endeavor of both to creating new scriptural interpretations that orient their respective eligions to Jerusalem and her mystical attributes could point a contemporary chivalry, whose search is for unity and the creation of a pluralistic chivalric order based on Judeo-Christian reconciliation, by virtue of the twelve.
Admittedly, Rashi was far from a Judeo-Christian reconciliation - almost as far as were his Christian contemporaries - and advocated a Jewish separatist approach. According to his commentaries, the Book of Genesis was intended to serve the specific interests of todays 'Gush Emunim', (“the Block of the Faithful” (viable at last, one thousand years later), to prove the exclusive Jewish right to the land of Israel... "that if the nations of the world would say to Israel 'you are bandits, having conquered the land of the seven nations', the Israelites may reply 'all the earth belongs to God, he created her and has given her to whom he deems worthy'..". But if we follow our perspective, the concept of 'Israel' takes a broader and more inclusive dimensions, where Judah (and Judah-ism) is but one of the components - then the story of Joseph and his brothers and the cup that reunites them, this would have a vast meaning for our day and age.
For along with Judah there are not only Joseph or his brothers, but the erev rav, the multitudes of new additions, who are essential to the complete design. It is inconceivable that in the space of two hundred years the progeny of seventy souls could amount to 600,000, together with their women and children. In order to build a strong and healthy people, the children of Israel needed to assimilate the varied nations.
At the focus of public and cultural concern in Israel today is the need for a new inner reconciliation of basic social conflicts: Secular and Religious, Left and Right, immigrants from Muslim countries and Christian countries, in order to try and hold together the seemingly disintegrating structure of “The Jewish' Nation”. But in fact, is it a “Jewish Nation” we are looking to build, or the nation of Israel?
The sides to these conflicts are pervaded by simplistic definitions and frozen attitudes, specifically around the question of Jewish culture and identity. But immediately beyond this is the Israeli-Palestinian struggle for the land. Couldn't the Palestinians conceivably be part of the covenant of the twelve, with a designated place at the Round Table? But instead of the Round Table we now face the wrestling ring and the 'pe'imot', (stages) of gradual implementation of the Oslo accords were heard as the 'pa’amon', the bell, in the struggle between two exhausted opponents.
In Genesis, Pharaoh "awakens from a dream,... and his spirit is pulsed" (Hebrew: po'em). Rashi interprets this pulsing of the spirit as the incessant ringing of a bell (Hebrew: pa'amon) that maddens the king. The Bell and the Cup are in essence the same form, only that the one opens downward and the other upwards. If not for the bell that troubled Pharaoh's spirit, the Hebrew slave, Joseph, would never have been called to his presence; and the nation of the twelve sons of Israel would have remained only ten nomadic and disparate tribes and not a nation.
In Qabbalah and Hassidim, the letters of 'Pharaoh' are rearranged to form 'Oreph' (the nape), and Pharaoh is often referred to by that name, i.e. the alienated, the one who turns his back. Observe how we, by turning our backs on each other, have become like Pharaoh. Will we recognize the tolling of the bell? Each step in this painful process toward peace in the land of Israel is meant to awaken and remind us of who we truly are - brothers and partners in the covenant of the twelve.
If we will it, it is not a legend (Agaddah). Jews, Christians & Muslims; religious and secular; East and West, North and South; all may join in the New Grail (cup) Games. Through television, the Internet and face-to-face experiential workshops, we can gather around the Round Table the Knights of the Twelve, representing the varying and opposing dimensions of the "Greater Land of Israel". Contrary to the popular political talk shows whose purpose is to discredit the viewpoint of the other, these games would reinstate the quest for common understanding, based on the recognition of the legitimacy of differing opinions. The winners of the Grail-cup will be those who are able to realize the potential of an integrated solution above the sum of the parts by virtue of learning the perspectives of the others. The mysterious grail to be sought after by the knights of the New Israel, is the common goral (destiny) in this land of ours, the land of origin of all these legends (and if you will, it is no legend).
See also a colleague's article about the Grail search in global Governance: http://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs10s/chalmatb.php: In-forming the Chalice as an Integrative Cognitive Dynamic - Sustaining the Holy Grail of Global Governance
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