From Ritual to Romance
Jessie L. Weston
Part 1 out of 4
This etext was produced by Robert Kiesling.
Jessie L. Weston
From Ritual to Romance
In the introductory Chapter the reader will find the aim and object
of these studies set forth at length. In view of the importance and
complexity of the problems involved it seemed better to incorporate
such a statement in the book itself, rather than relegate it to a
Preface which all might not trouble to read. Yet I feel that such a
general statement does not adequately express my full debt of obligation.
Among the many whose labour has been laid under contribution in the
following pages there are certain scholars whose published work, or
personal advice, has been specially illuminating, and to whom specific
acknowledgment is therefore due. Like many others I owe to Sir J. G.
Frazer the initial inspiration which set me, as I may truly say,
on the road to the Grail Castle. Without the guidance of The Golden
Bough I should probably, as the late M. Gaston Paris happily expressed
it, still be wandering in the forest of Broceliande!
During the Bayreuth Festival of 1911 I had frequent opportunities of
meeting, and discussion with, Professor von Schroeder. I owe to him
not only the introduction to his own work, which I found most helpful,
but references which have been of the greatest assistance; e.g. my
knowledge of Cumont's Les Religions Orientales, and Scheftelowitz's
valuable study on Fish Symbolism, both of which have furnished
important links in the chain of evidence, is due to Professor von
The perusal of Miss J. E. Harrison's Themis opened my eyes to the
extended importance of these Vegetation rites. In view of the
evidence there adduced I asked myself whether beliefs which had found
expression not only in social institution, and popular custom, but,
as set forth in Sir G. Murray's study on Greek Dramatic Origins,
attached to the work, also in Drama and Literature, might not
reasonably--even inevitably--be expected to have left their mark on
Romance? The one seemed to me a necessary corollary of the other,
and I felt that I had gained, as the result of Miss Harrison's work,
a wider, and more assured basis for my own researches. I was no longer
engaged merely in enquiring into the sources of a fascinating legend,
but on the identification of another field of activity for forces
whose potency as agents of evolution we were only now beginning
rightly to appreciate.
Finally, a casual reference, in Anrich's work on the Mysteries, to the
Naassene Document, caused me to apply to Mr G. R. S. Mead, of whose
knowledge of the mysterious border-land between Christianity and
Paganism, and willingness to place that knowledge at the disposal of
others, I had, for some years past, had pleasant experience. Mr Mead
referred me to his own translation and analysis of the text in question,
and there, to my satisfaction, I found, not only the final link that
completed the chain of evolution from Pagan Mystery to Christian
Ceremonial, but also proof of that wider significance I was beginning
to apprehend. The problem involved was not one of Folk-lore, not
even one of Literature, but of Comparative Religion in its widest sense.
Thus, while I trust that my co-workers in the field of Arthurian
research will accept these studies as a permanent contribution to
the elucidation of the Grail problem, I would fain hope that those
scholars who labour in a wider field, and to whose works I owe so
much, may find in the results here set forth elements that may prove
of real value in the study of the evolution of religious belief.
J. L. W.
Nature of the Grail problem. Unsatisfactory character of results
achieved. Objections to Christian Legendary origin; to Folk-lore
origin. Elements in both theories sound. Solution to be sought in a
direction which will do justice to both. Sir J. G. Frazer's Golden
Bough indicates possible line of research. Sir W. Ridgeway's
criticism of Vegetation theory examined. Dramas and Dramatic Dances.
The Living and not the Dead King the factor of importance.
Impossibility of proving human origin for Vegetation Deities. Not
Death but Resurrection the essential centre of Ritual. Muharram too
late in date and lacks Resurrection feature. Relation between defunct
heroes and special localities. Sanctity possibly antecedent to
connection. Mana not necessarily a case of relics. Self-acting
weapons frequent in Medieval Romance. Sir J. G. Frazer's theory holds
good. Remarks on method and design of present Studies.
The Task of the Hero
Essential to determine the original nature of the task imposed upon the hero.
Versions examined. The Gawain forms--Bleheris, Diû Crône. Perceval
versions--Gerbert, prose Perceval, Chrétien de Troyes, Perlesvaus,
Manessier, Peredur, Parzival. Galahad--Queste. Result, primary task
healing of Fisher King and removal of curse of Waste Land. The two
inter-dependent. Illness of King entails misfortune on Land. Enquiry
into nature of King's disability. Sone de Nansai. For elucidation of
problem necessary to bear in mind close connection between Land and
Ruler. Importance of Waste Land motif for criticism.
The Freeing of the Waters
Enquiry may commence with early Aryan tradition. The Rig-Veda.
Extreme importance assigned to Indra's feat of "Freeing the
Waters." This also specific achievement of Grail heroes. Extracts
from Rig-Veda. Dramatic poems and monologues. Professor von
Schroeder's theory. Mysterium und Mimus. Rishyaçriñga drama.
Parallels with Perceval story. Result, the specific task of the Grail
hero not a literary invention but an inheritance of Aryan tradition.
Tammuz and Adonis
General objects to be attained by these Nature Cults. Stimulation of
Fertility, Animal and Vegetable. Principle of Life ultimately
conceived of in anthropomorphic form. This process already advanced
in Rig-Veda. Greek Mythology preserves intermediate stage. The
Eniautos Daimon. Tammuz--earliest known representative of Dying God.
Character of the worship. Origin of the name. Lament for Tammuz.
His death affects not only Vegetable but Animal life. Lack of
artistic representation of Mysteries. Mr Langdon's suggestion.
Ritual possibly dramatic. Summary of evidence.
Adonis--Phoenician-Greek equivalent of Tammuz. Probably most
popular and best known form of Nature Cult. Mythological tale of
Adonis. Enquiry into nature of injury. Importance of recognizing
true nature of these cults and of the ritual observed. Varying dates
of celebration. Adonis probably originally Eniautos Daimon.
Principle of Life in general, hence lack of fixity in date. Details
of the ritual. Parallels with the Grail legend examined. Dead Knight
or Disabled King. Consequent misfortunes of Land. The Weeping
Women. The Hairless Maiden. Position of Castle. Summing up. Can
incidents of such remote antiquity be used as criticism for a Medieval
Medieval and Modern Forms of Nature Ritual
Is it possible to establish chain of descent connecting early Aryan
and Babylonian Ritual with Classic, Medieval and Modern forms of
Nature worship? Survival of Adonis cult established. Evidence of
Mannhardt and Frazer. Existing Continental customs recognized as
survivals of ancient beliefs. Instances. 'Directly related' to
Attis-Adonis cult. Von Schroeder establishes parallel between
existing Fertility procession and Rig-Veda poem. Identification of
Life Principle with King. Prosperity of land dependent on king as
representative of god. Celts. Greeks. Modern instances, the Shilluk
Kings. Parallel between Shilluk King, Grail King and Vegetation
Deity. Sone de Nansai and the Lament for Tammuz. Identity of
situation. Plea for unprejudiced criticism. Impossibility of such
parallels being fortuitous; the result of deliberate intention, not an
accident of literary invention. If identity of central character be
admitted his relation to Waste Land becomes fundamental factor in
criticizing versions. Another African survival.
Summary of results of previous enquiry. The Medieval Stage. Grail
romances probably contain record of secret ritual of a Fertility cult.
The Symbols of the cult--Cup, Lance, Sword, Stone, or Dish. Plea for
treating Symbols as a related group not as isolated units. Failure to
do so probably cause of unsatisfactory result of long research.
Essential to recognize Grail story as an original whole and to treat
it in its ensemble aspect. We must differentiate between origin and
accretion. Instances. The Legend of Longinus. Lance and Cup not
associated in Christian Art. Evidence. The Spear of Eastern
Liturgies only a Knife. The Bleeding Lance. Treasures of the Tuatha
de Danann. Correspond as a group with Grail Symbols. Difficulty of
equating Cauldron-Grail. Probably belong to a different line of
tradition. Instances given. Real significance of Lance and Cup.
Well known as Life Symbols. The Samurai. Four Symbols also preserved
as Suits of the Tarot. Origin of Tarot discussed. Probably reached
Europe from the East. Use of the Symbols in Magic. Probable
explanation of these various appearances to be found in fact that
associated group were at one time symbols of a Fertility cult.
Further evidence to be examined.
The Sword Dance
Relation of Sword Dance, Morris Dance, and Mumming Play. Their
Ceremonial origin now admitted by scholars. Connected with seasonal
Festivals and Fertility Ritual. Earliest Sword Dancers, the Maruts.
Von Schroeder, Mysterium und Mimus. Discussion of their nature and
functions. The Kouretes. Character of their dance. Miss
J. E. Harrison, Themis. The Korybantes. Dance probably sacrificial
in origin. The Salii. Dramatic element in their dance. Mars, as
Fertility god. Mamurius Veturius. Anna Perenna. Character of dance
seasonal. Modern British survivals. The Sword Dance. Mostly
preserved in North. Variants. Mr E. K. Chambers, The Medieval
Stage. The Mumming Plays. Description. Characters. Recognized as
representing Death and Revival of Vegetation Deity. Dr Jevons, Masks
and the Origin of the Greek Drama. Morris Dances. No dramatic
element. Costume of character significant. Possible survival of
theriomorphic origin. Elaborate character of figures in each group.
Symbols employed. The Pentangle. The Chalice. Present form shows
dislocation. Probability that three groups were once a combined whole
and Symbols united. Evidence strengthens view advanced in last
Chapter. Symbols originally a group connected with lost form of
Fertility Ritual. Possible origin of Grail Knights to be found in
The Medicine Man
The rôle of the Medicine Man, or Doctor in Fertility Ritual. Its
importance and antiquity. The Rig-Veda poem. Classical evidence, Mr
F. Cornford. Traces of Medicine Man in the Grail romances. Gawain as
Healer. Persistent tradition. Possible survival from pre-literary
form. Evidence of the Triads. Peredur as Healer. Evolution of
theme. Le Dist de l'Erberie.
The Fisher King
Summary of evidence presented. Need of a 'test' element. To be found
in central figure. Mystery of his title. Analysis of variants.
Gawain version. Perceval version. Borron alone attempts explanation
of title. Parzival. Perlesvaus. Queste. Grand Saint Graal.
Comparison with surviving ritual variants. Original form King dead,
and restored to life. Old Age and Wounding themes. Legitimate
variants. Doubling of character a literary device. Title. Why
Fisher King? Examination of Fish Symbolism. Fish a Life symbol.
Examples. Indian--Manu, Vishnu, Buddha. Fish in Buddhism. Evidence
from China. Orpheus. Babylonian evidence. Tammuz Lord of the Net.
Jewish Symbolism. The Messianic Fish-meal. Adopted by Christianity.
Evidence of the catacombs. Source of Borron's Fish-meals. Mystery
tradition not Celtic Folk-tale. Comparison of version with Finn
story. With Messianic tradition. Epitaph of Bishop Aberkios. Voyage
of Saint Brandan. Connection of Fish with goddess Astarte. Cumont.
Connection of Fish and Dove. Fish as Fertility Symbol. Its use in
Marriage ceremonies. Summing up of evidence. Fisher King
inexplicable from Christian point of view. Folk-lore solution
unsatisfactory. As a Ritual survival completely in place. Centre of
action, and proof of soundness of theory.
The Secret of the Grail (1)
The Grail regarded as an object of awe. Danger of speaking of Grail
or revealing Its secrets. Passages in illustration. Why, if survival
of Nature cults, popular, and openly performed? A two-fold element in
these cults, Exoteric, Esoteric. The Mysteries. Their influence on
Christianity to be sought in the Hellenized rather than the Hellenic
cults. Cumont. Rohde. Radical difference between Greek and Oriental
conceptions. Lack of evidence as regards Mysteries on the whole.
Best attested form that connected with Nature cults. Attis-Adonis.
Popularity of the Phrygian cult in Rome. Evidence as to Attis
Mysteries. Utilized by Neo-Platonists as vehicle for teaching. Close
connection with Mithraism. The Taurobolium. Details of Attis
Mysteries. Parallels with the Grail romances.
The Secret of the Grail (2)
The Naassene Document
Relations between early Christianity, and pre-Christian cults. Early
Heresies. Hippolytus, and The Refutation of all Heresies. Character
of the work. The Naassene Document. Mr Mead's analysis of
text. A synthesis of Mysteries. Identification of Life Principle
with the Logos. Connection between Drama and Mysteries of Attis.
Importance of the Phrygian Mysteries. Naassene claim to be sole
Christians. Significance of evidence. Vegetation cults as vehicle
of high spiritual teaching. Exoteric and Esoteric parallels with the
Grail tradition. Process of evolution sketched. Bleheris.
Perlesvaus. Borron and the Mystery tradition. Christian Legendary,
and Folk-tale, secondary, not primary, features.
Mithra and Attis
Problem of close connection of cults. Their apparent divergence.
Nature of deities examined. Attis. Mithra. The Messianic Feast.
Dieterich, Eine Mithrasliturgie. Difference between the two
initiations. Link between Phrygian, Mithraic, and Christian,
Mysteries to be found in their higher, esoteric, teaching. Women not
admitted to Mithraic initiation. Possible survival in Grail text.
Joint diffusion through the Roman Empire. Cumont's evidence. Traces
of cult in British Isles. Possible explanation of unorthodox
character of Grail legend. Evidence of survival of cult in fifth
century. The Elucidation a possible record of historic facts. Reason
for connecting Grail with Arthurian tradition.
The Perilous Chapel
The adventure of the Perilous Chapel in Grail romances. Gawain form.
Perceval versions. Queste. Perlesvaus. Lancelot. Chevalier à Deux
Espées. Perilous Cemetery. Earliest reference in Chattel
Orguellous. Âtre Perilleus. Prose Lancelot. Adventure part of
'Secret of the Grail.' The Chapel of Saint Austin. Histoire de Fulk
Fitz-Warin. Genuine record of an initiation. Probable locality
North Britain. Site of remains of Mithra-Attis cults. Traces of
Mystery tradition in Medieval romance. Owain Miles. Bousset,
Himmelfahrt der Seele. Parallels with romance. Appeal to Celtic
scholars. Otherworld journeys a possible survival of Mystery
tradition. The Templars, were they Naassenes?
Provenance and authorship of Grail romantic tradition. Evidence
points to Wales, probably Pembrokeshire. Earliest form contained in
group of Gawain poems assigned to Bleheris. Of Welsh origin. Master
Blihis, Blihos, Bliheris, Bréri, Bledhericus. Probably all references
to same person. Conditions of identity. Mr E. Owen, and Bledri ap
Cadivor. Evidence not complete but fulfils conditions of problem
Professor Singer and possible character of Bleheris' text. Mr Alfred
Nutt. Irish and Welsh parallels. Recapitulation of evolutionary
process. Summary and conclusion.
"Animus ad amplitudinem Mysteriorum pro modulo suo dilatetur,
non Mysteria ad angustias animi constringantur." (Bacon.)
"Many literary critics seem to think that an hypothesis about
obscure and remote questions of history can be refuted by a simple
demand for the production of more evidence than in fact exists.--But
the true test of an hypothesis, if it cannot be shewn to conflict with
known truths, is the number of facts that it correlaates, and explains."
(Cornford, Origins of Attic Comedy.)
In view of the extensive literature to which the Grail legend has
already given birth it may seem that the addition of another volume
to the already existing corpus calls for some words of apology and
explanation. When the student of the subject contemplates the
countless essays and brochures, the volumes of studies and criticism,
which have been devoted to this fascinating subject, the conflicting
character of their aims, their hopelessly contradictory results, he,
or she, may well hesitate before adding another element to such a
veritable witches' cauldron of apparently profitless study. And
indeed, were I not convinced that the theory advocated in the
following pages contains in itself the element that will resolve these
conflicting ingredients into one harmonious compound I should hardly
feel justified in offering a further contribution to the subject.
But it is precisely because upwards of thirty years' steady and
persevering study of the Grail texts has brought me gradually and
inevitably to certain very definite conclusions, has placed me in
possession of evidence hitherto ignored, or unsuspected, that I
venture to offer the result in these studies, trusting that they may
be accepted as, what I believe them to be, a genuine Elucidation of
the Grail problem.
My fellow-workers in this field know all too well the essential
elements of that problem; I do not need here to go over already
well-trodden ground; it will be sufficient to point out certain
salient features of the position.
The main difficulty of our research lies in the fact that the Grail
legend consists of a congeries of widely differing elements--elements
which at first sight appear hopelessly incongruous, if not completely
contradictory, yet at the same time are present to an extent, and in a
form, which no honest critic can afford to ignore.
Thus it has been perfectly possible for one group of scholars, relying
upon the undeniably Christian-Legendary elements, preponderant in
certain versions, to maintain the thesis that the Grail legend is
ab initio a Christian, and ecclesiastical, legend, and to analyse
the literature on that basis alone.
Another group, with equal reason, have pointed to the strongly marked
Folk-lore features preserved in the tale, to its kinship with other
themes, mainly of Celtic provenance, and have argued that, while the
later versions of the cycle have been worked over by ecclesiastical
writers in the interests of edification, the story itself is
non-Christian, and Folk-lore in origin.
Both groups have a basis of truth for their arguments: the features
upon which they rely are, in each case, undeniably present, yet at the
same time each line of argument is faced with certain insuperable
difficulties, fatal to the claims advanced.
Thus, the theory of Christian origin breaks down when faced with the
awkward fact that there is no Christian legend concerning Joseph of
Arimathea and the Grail. Neither in Legendary, nor in Art, is there
any trace of the story; it has no existence outside the Grail
literature, it is the creation of romance, and no genuine tradition.
On this very ground it was severely criticized by the Dutch writer
Jacob van Maerlant, in 1260. In his Merlin he denounces the whole
Grail history as lies, asserting that the Church knows nothing of
it--which is true.
In the same way the advocate of a Folk-lore origin is met with the
objection that the section of the cycle for which such a source can be
definitely proved, i.e., the Perceval story, has originally nothing
whatever to do with the Grail; and that, while parallels can be found
for this or that feature of the legend, such parallels are isolated in
character and involve the breaking up of the tale into a composite of
mutually independent themes. A prototype, containing the main
features of the Grail story--the Waste Land, the Fisher King, the
Hidden Castle with its solemn Feast, and mysterious Feeding Vessel,
the Bleeding Lance and Cup--does not, so far as we know, exist. None
of the great collections of Folk-tales, due to the industry of a
Cosquin, a Hartland, or a Campbell, has preserved specimens of such a
type; it is not such a story as, e.g., The Three Days Tournament,
examples of which are found all over the world. Yet neither the
advocate of a Christian origin, nor the Folk-lorist, can afford to
ignore the arguments, and evidence of the opposing school, and while
the result of half a century of patient investigation has been to show
that the origin of the Grail story must be sought elsewhere than in
ecclesiastical legend, or popular tale, I hold that the result has
equally been to demonstrate that neither of these solutions should be
ignored, but that the ultimate source must be sought for in a
direction which shall do justice to what is sound in the claims of
Some years ago, when fresh from the study of Sir J. G. Frazer's
epoch-making work, The Golden Bough, I was struck by the resemblance
existing between certain features of the Grail story, and
characteristic details of the Nature Cults described. The more
closely I analysed the tale, the more striking became the resemblance,
and I finally asked myself whether it were not possible that in this
mysterious legend--mysterious alike in its character, its sudden
appearance, the importance apparently assigned to it, followed by as
sudden and complete a disappearance--we might not have the confused
record of a ritual, once popular, later surviving under conditions of
strict secrecy? This would fully account for the atmosphere of awe
and reverence which even under distinctly non-Christian conditions
never fails to surround the Grail, It may act simply as a feeding
vessel, It is none the less toute sainte cose; and also for the
presence in the tale of distinctly popular, and Folk-lore, elements.
Such an interpretation would also explain features irreconcilable with
orthodox Christianity, which had caused some scholars to postulate a
heterodox origin for the legend, and thus explain its curiously
complete disappearance as a literary theme. In the first volume of my
Perceval studies, published in 1906, I hinted at this possible
solution of the problem, a solution worked out more fully in a paper
read before the Folk-lore Society in December of the same year, and
published in Volume XVIII. of the Journal of the Society. By the time
my second volume of studies was ready for publication in 1909, further
evidence had come into my hands; I was then certain that I was upon
the right path, and I felt justified in laying before the public the
outlines of a theory of evolution, alike of the legend, and of the
literature, to the main principles of which I adhere to-day.
But certain links were missing in the chain of evidence, and the work
was not complete. No inconsiderable part of the information at my
disposal depended upon personal testimony, the testimony of those who
knew of the continued existence of such a ritual, and had actually
been initiated into its mysteries--and for such evidence the student
of the letter has little respect. He worships the written word; for
the oral, living, tradition from which the word derives force and
vitality he has little use. Therefore the written word had to be
found. It has taken me some nine or ten years longer to complete the
evidence, but the chain is at last linked up, and we can now prove by
printed texts the parallels existing between each and every feature of
the Grail story and the recorded symbolism of the Mystery cults.
Further, we can show that between these Mystery cults and Christianity
there existed at one time a close and intimate union, such a union as
of itself involved the practical assimilation of the central rite, in
each case a 'Eucharistic' Feast, in which the worshippers partook of
the Food of Life from the sacred vessels.
In face of the proofs which will be found in these pages I do not
think any fair-minded critic will be inclined to dispute any longer
the origin of the 'Holy' Grail; after all it is as august and ancient
an origin as the most tenacious upholder of Its Christian character
But I should wish it clearly to be understood that the aim of these
studies is, as indicated in the title, to determine the origin of the
Grail, not to discuss the provenance and interrelation of the
different versions. I do not believe this latter task can be
satisfactorily achieved unless and until we are of one accord as to
the character of the subject matter. When we have made up our minds
as to what the Grail really was, and what it stood for, we shall be
able to analyse the romances; to decide which of them contains more,
which less, of the original matter, and to group them accordingly.
On this point I believe that the table of descent, printed in Volume II.
of my Perceval studies is in the main correct, but there is still
much analytical work to be done, in particular the establishment of
the original form of the Perlesvaus is highly desirable. But apart
from the primary object of these studies, and the results therein
obtained, I would draw attention to the manner in which the evidence
set forth in the chapters on the Mystery cults, and especially that on
The Naassene Document, a text of extraordinary value from more than
one point of view, supports and complements the researches of Sir
J. G. Frazer. I am, of course, familiar with the attacks directed
against the 'Vegetation' theory, the sarcasms of which it has been the
object, and the criticisms of what is held in some quarters to be the
exaggerated importance attached to these Nature cults. But in view of
the use made of these cults as the medium of imparting high spiritual
teaching, a use which, in face of the document above referred to, can
no longer be ignored or evaded, are we not rather justified in asking
if the true importance of the rites has as yet been recognized? Can we
possibly exaggerate their value as a factor in the evolution of
Such a development of his researches naturally lay outside the range
of Sir J. G. Frazer's work, but posterity will probably decide that,
like many another patient and honest worker, he 'builded better than
I have carefully read Sir W. Ridgeway's attack on the school in his
Dramas and Dramatic Dances, and while the above remarks explain my
position with regard to the question as a whole, I would here take the
opportunity of stating specifically my grounds for dissenting from
certain of the conclusions at which the learned author arrives. I do
not wish it to be said: "This is all very well, but Miss Weston
ignores the arguments on the other side." I do not ignore, but I do
not admit their validity. It is perfectly obvious that Sir
W. Ridgeway's theory, reduced to abstract terms, would result in the
conclusion that all religion is based upon the cult of the Dead, and
that men originally knew no gods but their grandfathers, a theory from
which as a student of religion I absolutely and entirely dissent. I
can understand that such Dead Ancestors can be looked upon as
Protectors, or as Benefactors, but I see no ground for supposing that
they have ever been regarded as Creators, yet it is precisely as
vehicle for the most lofty teaching as to the Cosmic relations
existing between God and Man, that these Vegetation cults were
employed. The more closely one studies pre-Christian Theology, the
more strongly one is impressed with the deeply, and daringly,
spiritual character of its speculations, and the more doubtful it
appears that such teaching can depend upon the unaided processes of
human thought, or can have been evolved from such germs as we find
among the supposedly 'primitive' peoples, such as e.g. the Australian
tribes. Are they really primitive? Or are we dealing, not with the
primary elements of religion, but with the disjecta membra of a
vanished civilization? Certain it is that so far as historical
evidence goes our earliest records point to the recognition of
a spiritual, not of a material, origin of the human race; the Sumerian
and Babylonian Psalms were not composed by men who believed themselves
the descendants of 'witchetty grubs.' The Folk practices and
ceremonies studied in these pages, the Dances, the rough Dramas, the
local and seasonal celebrations, do not represent the material out of
which the Attis-Adonis cult was formed, but surviving fragments of a
worship from which the higher significance has vanished.
Sir W. Ridgeway is confident that Osiris, Attis, Adonis, were all at
one time human beings, whose tragic fate gripped hold of popular
imagination, and led to their ultimate deification. The first-named
cult stands on a somewhat different basis from the others, the
beneficent activities of Osiris being more widely diffused, more
universal in their operation. I should be inclined to regard the
Egyptian deity primarily as a Culture Hero, rather than a Vegetation
With regard to Attis and Adonis, whatever their original character
(and it seems to me highly improbable that there should have been two
youths each beloved by a goddess, each victim of a similar untimely
fate), long before we have any trace of them both have become so
intimately identified with the processes of Nature that they have
ceased to be men and become gods, and as such alone can we deal with
them. It is also permissible to point out that in the case of Tammuz,
Esmun, and Adonis, the title is not a proper name, but a vague
appellative, denoting an abstract rather than a concrete origin.
Proof of this will be found later. Sir W. Ridgeway overlooks the fact
that it is not the tragic death of Attis-Adonis which is of importance
for these cults, but their subsequent restoration to life, a feature
which cannot be postulated of any ordinary mortal.
And how are we to regard Tammuz, the prototype of all these deities?
Is there any possible ground for maintaining that he was ever a man?
Prove it we cannot, as the records of his cult go back thousands of
years before our era. Here, again, we have the same dominant feature;
it is not merely the untimely death which is lamented, but the
restoration to life which is celebrated.
Throughout the whole study the author fails to discriminate between
the activities of the living, and the dead, king. The Dead king may,
as I have said above, be regarded as the Benefactor, as the
Protector, of his people, but it is the Living king upon whom their
actual and continued prosperity depends. The detail that the ruling
sovereign is sometimes regarded as the re-incarnation of the original
founder of the race strengthens this point--the king never dies--Le
Roi est mort, Vive le Roi is very emphatically the motto of this
Faith. It is the insistence on Life, Life continuous, and
ever-renewing, which is the abiding characteristic of these cults, a
characteristic which differentiates them utterly and entirely from the
ancestral worship with which Sir W. Ridgeway would fain connect them.
Nor are the arguments based upon the memorial rites of definitely
historical heroes, of comparatively late date, such as Hussein and
Hossein, of any value here. It is precisely the death, and not the
resurrection, of the martyr which is of the essence of the Muharram.
No one contends that Hussein rose from the dead, but it is precisely
this point which is of primary importance in the Nature cults; and Sir
W. Ridgeway must surely be aware that Folk-lorists find in this very
Muharram distinct traces of borrowing from the earlier Vegetation rites.
The author triumphantly asserts that the fact that certain Burmese
heroes and heroines are after death reverenced as tree spirits 'sets
at rest for ever' the belief in abstract deities. But how can he be
sure that the process was not the reverse of that which he postulates,
i.e., that certain natural objects, trees, rivers, etc., were not
regarded as sacred before the Nats became connected with them? That
the deified human beings were not after death assigned to places
already held in reverence? Such a possibility is obvious to any
Folk-lore student, and local traditions should in each case be
carefully examined before the contrary is definitely asserted.
So far as the origins of Drama are concerned the Ode quoted later from
the Naassene Document is absolute and definite proof of the close
connection existing between the Attis Mystery ritual, and dramatic
performances, i.e., Attis regarded in his deified, Creative, 'Logos,'
aspect, not Attis, the dead youth.
Nor do I think that the idea of 'Mana' can be lightly dismissed as 'an
ordinary case of relics.' The influence may well be something
entirely apart from the continued existence of the ancestor, an
independent force, assisting him in life, and transferring itself
after death to his successor. A 'Magic' Sword or Staff is not
necessarily a relic; Medieval romance supplies numerous instances of
self-acting weapons whose virtue in no wise depends upon their
previous owner, as e.g. the Sword in Le Chevalier à l'Épée, or the
Flaming Lance of the Chevalier de la Charrette. Doubtless the cult of
Ancestors plays a large rôle in the beliefs of certain peoples, but it
is not a sufficiently solid foundation to bear the weight of the
super-structure Sir W. Ridgeway would fain rear upon it, while it
differs too radically from the cults he attacks to be used as an
argument against them; the one is based upon Death, the other on Life.
Wherefore, in spite of all the learning and ingenuity brought to bear
against it, I avow myself an impenitent believer in Sir J. G. Frazer's
main theory, and as I have said above, I hold that theory to be of
greater and more far-reaching importance than has been hitherto
I would add a few words as to the form of these studies--they may be
found disconnected. They have been written at intervals of time
extending over several years, and my aim has been to prove the
essentially archaic character of all the elements composing the Grail
story rather than to analyse the story as a connected whole. With this
aim in view I have devoted chapters to features which have now either
dropped out of the existing versions, or only survive in a subordinate
form, e.g. the chapters on The Medicine Man, and The Freeing of the
Waters. The studies will, I hope, and believe, be accepted as offering
a definite contribution towards establishing the fundamental character
of our material; as stated above, when we are all at one as to what
the Holy Grail really was, and is, we can then proceed with some
hope of success to criticize the manner in which different writers
have handled the inspiring theme, but such success seems to be
hopeless so long as we all start from different, and often utterly
irreconcilable, standpoints and proceed along widely diverging roads.
One or another may, indeed, arrive at the goal, but such unanimity of
opinion as will lend to our criticism authoritative weight is,
on such lines, impossible of achievement.
The Task of the Hero
As a first step towards the successful prosecution of an investigation
into the true nature and character of the mysterious object we know as
the Grail it will be well to ask ourselves whether any light may be
thrown upon the subject by examining more closely the details of the
Quest in its varying forms; i.e., what was the precise character of
the task undertaken by, or imposed upon, the Grail hero, whether that
hero were Gawain, Perceval, or Galahad, and what the results to
be expected from a successful achievement of the task. We shall find
at once a uniformity which assures us of the essential identity of the
tradition underlying the varying forms, and a diversity indicating
that the tradition has undergone a gradual, but radical, modification
in the process of literary evolution. Taken in their relative order
the versions give the following result.
GAWAIN (Bleheris). Here the hero sets out on his journey with no
clear idea of the task before him. He is taking the place of a knight
mysteriously slain in his company, but whither he rides, and why,
he does not know, only that the business is important and pressing.
From the records of his partial success we gather that he ought to have
enquired concerning the nature of the Grail, and that this enquiry
would have resulted in the restoration to fruitfulness of a Waste
Land, the desolation of which is, in some manner, not clearly
explained, connected with the death of a knight whose name and
identity are never disclosed. "Great is the loss that ye lie thus,
'tis even the destruction of kingdoms, God grant that ye be avenged,
so that the folk be once more joyful and the land repeopled which by
ye and this sword are wasted and made void." The fact that Gawain
does ask concerning the Lance assures the partial restoration of the
land; I would draw attention to the special terms in which this is
described: "for so soon as Sir Gawain asked of the Lance...the waters
flowed again thro' their channel, and all the woods were turned to
Diû Crône. Here the question is more general in character; it affects
the marvels beheld, not the Grail alone; but now the Quester is
prepared, and knows what is expected of him. The result is to break
the spell which retains the Grail King in a semblance of life, and we
learn, by implication, that the land is restored to fruitfulness: "yet
had the land been waste, but by his coming had folk and land alike
been delivered." Thus in the earliest preserved, the GAWAIN form,
the effect upon the land appears to be the primary result of the
PERCEVAL. The Perceval versions, which form the bulk of the existing
Grail texts, differ considerably the one from the other, alike in the
task to be achieved, and the effects resulting from the hero's
success, or failure. The distinctive feature of the Perceval version
is the insistence upon the sickness, and disability of the ruler of
the land, the Fisher King. Regarded first as the direct cause of the
wasting of the land, it gradually assumes overwhelming importance, the
task of the Quester becomes that of healing the King, the restoration
of the land not only falls into the background but the operating cause
of its desolation is changed, and finally it disappears from the story
altogether. One version, alone, the source of which is, at present,
undetermined, links the PERCEVAL with the GAWAIN form; this is the
version preserved in the Gerbert continuation of the Perceval of
Chrétien de Troyes. Here the hero having, like Gawain, partially
achieved the task, but again like Gawain, having failed satisfactorily
to resolder the broken sword, wakes, like the earlier hero, to find
that the Grail Castle has disappeared, and he is alone in a flowery
meadow. He pursues his way through a land fertile, and well-peopled
and marvels much, for the day before it had been a waste desert.
Coming to a castle he is received by a solemn procession, with great
rejoicing; through him the folk have regained the land and goods which
they had lost. The mistress of the castle is more explicit. Perceval
had asked concerning the Grail:
"par coi amendé
Somes, en si faite maniére
Qu'en ceste regne n'avoit riviére
Qui ne fust gaste, ne fontaine.
E la terre gaste et soutaine."
Like Gawain he has 'freed the waters' and thus restored the land.
In the prose Perceval the motif of the Waste Land has disappeared, the
task of the hero consists in asking concerning the Grail, and by so
doing, to restore the Fisher King, who is suffering from extreme old
age, to health, and youth.
"Se tu eusses demandé quel'en on faisoit, que li rois ton aiol fust
gariz de l'enfermetez qu'il a, et fust revenu en sa juventé."
When the question has been asked: "Le rois péschéor estoit gariz et
tot muez de sa nature." "Li rois peschiére estoit mués de se nature et
estoit garis de se maladie, et estoit sains comme pissons." Here
we have the introduction of a new element, the restoration to youth of
the sick King.
In the Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes we find ourselves in presence
of certain definite changes, neither slight, nor unimportant,
upon which it seems to me insufficient stress has hitherto been laid.
The question is changed; the hero no longer asks what the Grail is,
but (as in the prose Perceval) whom it serves? a departure from an
essential and primitive simplicity--the motive for which is apparent
in Chrétien, but not in the prose form, where there is no enigmatic
personality to be served apart. A far more important change is that,
while the malady of the Fisher King is antecedent to the hero's visit,
and capable of cure if the question be asked, the failure to fulfil
the prescribed conditions of itself entails disaster upon the land.
Thus the sickness of the King, and the desolation of the land, are not
necessarily connected as cause and effect, but, a point which seems
hitherto unaccountably to have been overlooked, the latter is directly
attributable to the Quester himself.
"Car se tu demandé l'eusses
Li rice roi qui moult s'esmaie
Fust or tost garis de sa plaie
Et si tenist sa tière en pais
Dont il n'en tenra point jamais,"
but by Perceval's failure to ask the question he has entailed dire
misfortune upon the land:
"Dames en perdront lor maris,
Tiéres en seront essiliés,
Et pucielles desconselliés
Orfenes, veves, en remanront
Et maint chevalier en morront."
This idea, that the misfortunes of the land are not antecedent to, but
dependent upon, the hero's abortive visit to the Grail Castle, is
carried still further by the compiler of the Perlesvaus, where the
failure of the predestined hero to ask concerning the office of the
Grail is alone responsible for the illness of the King and the
misfortunes of the country. "Une grans dolors est avenue an terre
novelement par un jeune chevalier qui fu herbergiez an l'ostel au
riche roi Peschéor, si aparut à lui li saintimes Graaus, et la lance
de quoi li fiers seigne par la poignte; ne demanda de quoi ce servoit,
ou dont ce venoit, et por ce qu'il ne demanda sont toutes les terres
comméues an guerre, ne chevalier n'ancontre autre au forest qu'il ne
li core sus, et ocie s'il peut."
"Li Roi Pecheors de qui est grant dolors, quar il est cheüz en une
douleureuse langour--ceste langour li est venue par celui qui se
heberga an son ostel, à qui li seintimes Graaus s'aparut, por ce que
cil ne vost demander de qu'il an servoit, toutes les terres an furent
comméues en gerre."
"Je suis cheüz an langour dès cele oure que li chevaliers se herberga
çoianz dont vous avez oï parler; par un soule parole que il déloia a
dire me vint ceste langour."
From this cause the Fisher King dies before the hero has achieved the
task, and can take his place. "Li bons Rois Peschiéres est morz."
There is here no cure of the King or restoration of the land, the
specific task of the Grail hero is never accomplished, he comes into
his kingdom as the result of a number of knightly adventures, neither
more nor less significant than those found in non-Grail romances.
The Perlesvaus, in its present form, appears to be a later, and more
fully developed, treatment of the motif noted in Chrétien, i.e.,
that the misfortunes of King and country are directly due to the
Quester himself, and had no antecedent existence; this, I would
submit, alters the whole character of the story, and we are at a loss
to know what, had the hero put the question on the occasion of his
first visit, could possibly have been the result achieved. It would
not have been the cure of the King: he was, apparently, in perfect
health; it would not have been the restoration to verdure of the Land:
the Land was not Waste; where, as in the case of Gawain, there is a
Dead Knight, whose death is to be avenged, something might have been
achieved, in the case of the overwhelming majority of the Perceval
versions, which do not contain this feature, the dependence of the
Curse upon the Quester reduces the story to incoherence. In one
Perceval version alone do we find a motif analogous to the earlier
Gawain Bleheris form. In Manessier the hero's task is not restricted
to the simple asking of a question, but he must also slay the enemy
whose treachery has caused the death of the Fisher King's brother;
thereby healing the wound of the King himself, and removing the woes
of the land. What these may be we are not told, but, apparently, the
country is not 'Waste.'
In Peredur we have a version closely agreeing with that of Chrétien;
the hero fails to enquire the meaning of what he sees in the Castle of
Wonders, and is told in consequence: "Hadst thou done so the King
would have been restored to health, and his dominions to peace,
whereas from henceforth he will have to endure battles and conflicts,
and his knights will perish, and wives will be widowed, and maidens
will be left portionless, and all this because of thee." This
certainly seems to imply that, while the illness of the Fisher King
may be antecedent to, and independent of, the visit and failure of the
hero, the misfortunes which fall on the land have been directly caused
The conclusion which states that the Bleeding Head seen by the hero
"was thy cousin's, and he was killed by the Sorceresses of Gloucester,
who also lamed thine uncle--and there is a prediction that thou art to
avenge these things--" would seem to indicate the presence in the
original of a 'Vengeance' theme, such as that referred to above.
In Parzival the stress is laid entirely on the sufferings of the King;
the question has been modified in the interests of this theme, and
here assumes the form "What aileth thee, mine uncle?" The blame
bestowed upon the hero is solely on account of the prolonged sorrow
his silence has inflicted on King and people; of a Land laid Waste,
either through drought, or war, there is no mention.
"Iuch solt' iur wirt erbarmet hân,
An dem Got wunder hât getân,
Und het gevrâget sîner nôt,
Ir lebet, und sît an saelden tôt."
"Dô der trûrege vischaere
Saz âne fröude und âne trôst
War umb' iren niht siufzens hât erlôst."
The punishment falls on the hero who has failed to put the question,
rather than on the land, which, indeed, appears to be in no way
affected, either by the wound of the King, or the silence of the
hero. The divergence from Chrétien's version is here very marked,
and, so far, seems to have been neglected by critics. The point is
also of importance in view of the curious parallels which are
otherwise to be found between this version and Perlesvaus; here the
two are in marked contradiction with one another.
The question finally asked, the result is, as indicated in the prose
version, the restoration of the King not merely to health, but also to
"Swaz der Frânzoys heizet flô'rî'
Der glast kom sinem velle bî,
Parzival's schoen' was nu ein wint;
Und Absalôn Dâvîdes kint,
Von Askalûn Vergulaht
Und al den schoene was geslaht,
Und des man Gahmurete jach
Dô man'n in zogen sach
Ze Kanvoleis sô wünneclîch,
Ir dechéines schoen' was der gelîch,
Die Anfortas ûz siecheit truoc.
Got noch künste kan genuoc."
GALAHAD. In the final form assumed by the story, that preserved in
the Queste, the achievement of the task is not preceded by any failure
on the part of the hero, and the advantages derived therefrom are
personal and spiritual, though we are incidentally told that he heals
the Fisher King's father, and also the old King, Mordrains, whose life
has been preternaturally prolonged. In the case of this latter it is
to be noted that the mere fact of Galahad's being the predestined
winner suffices, and the healing takes place before the Quest is
There is no Waste Land, and the wounding of the two Kings is entirely
unconnected with Galahad. We find hints, in the story of Lambar, of a
knowledge of the earlier form, but for all practical purposes it has
disappeared from the story.
Analysing the above statements we find that the results may be grouped
under certain definite headings:
(a) There is a general consensus of evidence to the effect that the
main object of the Quest is the restoration to health and vigour of a
King suffering from infirmity caused by wounds, sickness, or old age;
(b) and whose infirmity, for some mysterious and unexplained reason,
reacts disastrously upon his kingdom, either depriving it of vegetation,
or exposing it to the ravages of war.
(c) In two cases it is definitely stated that the King will be
restored to youthful vigour and beauty.
(d) In both cases where we find Gawain as the hero of the story, and
in one connected with Perceval, the misfortune which has fallen upon
the country is that of a prolonged drought, which has destroyed
vegetation, and left the land Waste; the effect of the hero's question
is to restore the waters to their channel, and render the land once more
(e) In three cases the misfortunes and wasting of the land are the
result of war, and directly caused by the hero's failure to ask the
question; we are not dealing with an antecedent condition. This, in
my opinion, constitutes a marked difference between the two groups,
which has not hitherto received the attention it deserves. One aim of
our present investigation will be to determine which of these two
forms should be considered the elder.
But this much seems certain, the aim of the Grail Quest is two-fold;
it is to benefit (a) the King, (b) the land. The first of these two
is the more important, as it is the infirmity of the King which
entails misfortune on his land, the condition of the one reacts, for
good or ill, upon the other; how, or why, we are left to discover for
Before proceeding further in our investigation it may be well to
determine the precise nature of the King's illness, and see whether
any light upon the problem can be thus obtained.
In both the Gawain forms the person upon whom the fertility of the
land depends is dead, though, in the version of Diû Crône he is,
to all appearance, still in life. It should be noted that in the
Bleheris form the king of the castle, who is not referred to as the
Fisher King, is himself hale and sound; the wasting of the land was
brought about by the blow which slew the knight whose body Gawain sees
on the bier.
In both the Perlesvaus, and the prose Perceval the King has simply
'fallen into languishment,' in the first instance, as noted above, on
account of the failure of the Quester, in the second as the result
of extreme old age.
In Chrétien, Manessier, Peredur, and the Parzival, the King is
suffering from a wound the nature of which, euphemistically disguised
in the French texts, is quite clearly explained in the German.
But the whole position is made absolutely clear by a passage preserved
in Sone de Nansai and obviously taken over from an earlier poem. This
romance contains a lengthy section dealing with the history of Joseph
'd'Abarimathie,' who is represented as the patron Saint of the kingdom
of Norway; his bones, with the sacred relics of which he had the
charge, the Grail and the Lance, are preserved in a monastery on an
island in the interior of that country. In this version Joseph
himself is the Fisher King; ensnared by the beauty of the daughter of
the Pagan King of Norway, whom he has slain, he baptizes her, though
she is still an unbeliever at heart, and makes her his wife, thus
drawing the wrath of Heaven upon himself. God punishes him for his
"Es rains et desous l'afola
De coi grant dolor endura."
Then, in a remarkable passage, we are told of the direful result
entailed by this punishment upon his land:
"Sa tierre ert a ce jour nommée
Lorgres, ch'est verités prouvée,
Lorgres est uns nons de dolour
Nommés en larmes et en plours,
Bien doit iestre en dolour nommés
Car on n'i seme pois ne blés
Ne enfes d'omme n'i nasqui
Ne puchielle n'i ot mari,
Ne arbres fueille n'i porta
Ne nus prés n'i raverdïa,
Ne nus oysiaus n'i ot naon
Ne se n'i ot beste faon,
Tant que li rois fu mehaigniés
Et qu'il fu fors de ses pechiés,
Car Jesu-Crist fourment pesa
Qu'à la mescréant habita."
Now there can be no possible doubt here, the condition of the King is
sympathetically reflected on the land, the loss of virility in the one
brings about a suspension of the reproductive processes of Nature on
the other. The same effect would naturally be the result of the death
of the sovereign upon whose vitality these processes depended.
To sum up the result of the analysis, I hold that we have solid
grounds for the belief that the story postulates a close connection
between the vitality of a certain King, and the prosperity of his
kingdom; the forces of the ruler being weakened or destroyed, by
wound, sickness, old age, or death, the land becomes Waste,
and the task of the hero is that of restoration.
It seems to me, then, that, if we desire to elucidate the perplexing
mystery of the Grail romances, and to place the criticism of this
important and singularly fascinating body of literature upon an
assured basis, we shall do so most effectually by pursuing a line of
investigation which will concentrate upon the persistent elements of
the story, the character and significance of the achievement proposed,
rather than upon the varying details, such as Grail and Lance, however
important may be their rôle. If we can ascertain, accurately, and
unmistakably, the meaning of the whole, we shall, I think, find less
difficulty in determining the character and office of the parts, in
fact, the question solvitur ambulando, the 'complex' of the problem
being solved, the constituent elements will reveal their significance.
As a first step I propose to ask whether this 'Quest of the Grail'
represents an isolated, and unique achievement, or whether the task
allotted to the hero, Gawain, Perceval, or Galahad, is one that has
been undertaken, and carried out by heroes of other ages, and other
lands. In the process of our investigation we must retrace our steps
and turn back to the early traditions of our Aryan forefathers, and
see whether we cannot, even in that remote antiquity, lay our hand
upon a clue, which, like the fabled thread of Ariadne, shall serve as
guide through the mazes of a varying, yet curiously persistent,
The Freeing of the Waters
'To begin at the beginning,' was the old story-telling formula, and
it was a very sound one, if 'the beginning' could only be definitely
ascertained! As our nearest possible approach to it I would draw
attention to certain curious parallels in the earliest literary
monuments of our race. I would at the same time beg those scholars
who may think it 'a far cry' from the romances of the twelfth century
of our era to some 1000 years B.C. to suspend their judgment till they
have fairly examined the evidence for a tradition common to the Aryan
race in general, and persisting with extraordinary vitality, and a
marked correspondence of characteristic detail, through all migrations
and modifications of that race, down to the present day.
Turning back to the earliest existing literary evidence, the Rig-Veda,
we become aware that, in this vast collection of over 1000 poems (it
is commonly known as The Thousand and One Hymns but the poems
contained in it are more than that in number) are certain parallels
with our Grail stories which, if taken by themselves, are perhaps
interesting and suggestive rather than in any way conclusive, yet
which, when they are considered in relation to the entire body of
evidence, assume a curious significance and importance. We must first
note that a very considerable number of the Rig-Veda hymns depend for
their initial inspiration on the actual bodily needs and requirements
of a mainly agricultural population, i.e., of a people that depend
upon the fruits of the earth for their subsistence, and to whom the
regular and ordered sequence of the processes of Nature was a vital
Their hymns and prayers, and, as we have strong reason to suppose,
their dramatic ritual, were devised for the main purpose of obtaining
from the gods of their worship that which was essential to ensure
their well-being and the fertility of their land--warmth, sunshine,
above all, sufficient water. That this last should, in an Eastern land,
under a tropical sun, become a point of supreme importance, is easily
to be understood. There is consequently small cause for surprise when
we find, throughout the collection, the god who bestows upon them this
much desired boon to be the one to whom by far the greater proportion
of the hymns are addressed. It is not necessary here to enter into a
discussion as to the original conception of Indra, and the place
occupied by him in the early Aryan Pantheon, whether he was originally
regarded as a god of war, or a god of weather; what is important for
our purpose is the fact that it is Indra to whom a disproportionate
number of the hymns of the Rig-Veda are addressed, that it is from him
the much desired boon of rain and abundant water is besought, and that
the feat which above all others redounded to his praise, and is
ceaselessly glorified both by the god himself, and his grateful
worshippers, is precisely the feat by which the Grail heroes, Gawain
and Perceval, rejoiced the hearts of a suffering folk, i.e., the
restoration of the rivers to their channels, the 'Freeing of the
Waters.' Tradition relates that the seven great rivers of India had
been imprisoned by the evil giant, Vritra, or Ahi, whom Indra slew,
thereby releasing the streams from their captivity.
The Rig-Veda hymns abound in references to this feat; it will only be
necessary to cite a few from among the numerous passages I have noted.
'Thou hast set loose the seven rivers to flow.'
'Thou causest water to flow on every side.'
'Indra set free the waters.'
'Thou, Indra, hast slain Vritra by thy vigour, thou hast set free the
'Thou hast slain the slumbering Ahi for the release of the waters, and
hast marked out the channels of the all-delighting rivers.'
'Indra has filled the rivers, he has inundated the dry land.'
'Indra has released the imprisoned waters to flow upon the earth.'
It would be easy to fill pages with similar quotations, but these are
sufficient for our purpose.
Among the Rig-Veda hymns are certain poems in Dialogue form, which
from their curious and elliptic character have been the subject of
much discussion among scholars. Professor Oldenberg, in drawing
attention to their peculiarities, had expressed his opinion that these
poems were the remains of a distinct type of early Indian literature,
where verses forming the central, and illuminating, point of a formal
ceremonial recital had been 'farced' with illustrative and explanatory
prose passages; the form of the verses being fixed, that of the prose
being varied at the will of the reciter.
This theory, which is technically known as the 'Âkhyâna' theory (as it
derived its starting point from the discussion of the Suparnâkhyâna
text), won considerable support, but was contested by M. Sylvain Lévi,
who asserted that, in these hymns, we had the remains of the earliest,
and oldest, Indian dramatic creations, the beginning of the Indian
Drama; and that the fragments could only be satisfactorily interpreted
from the point of view that they were intended to be spoken, not by a
solitary reciter, but by two or more dramatis personae.
J. Hertel (Der Ursprung des Indischen Dramas und Epos) went still
further, and while accepting, and demonstrating, the justice of this
interpretation of the 'Dialogue' poems, suggested a similar origin for
certain 'Monologues' found in the same collection.
Professor Leopold von Schroeder, in his extremely interesting volume,
Mysterium und Mimus im Rig-Veda, has given a popular and practical
form to the results of these researches, by translating and
publishing, with an explanatory study, a selection of these early
'Culture' Dramas, explaining the speeches, and placing them in the
mouth of the respective actors to whom they were, presumably,
assigned. Professor von Schroeder holds the entire group to be linked
together by one common intention, viz., the purpose of stimulating the
processes of Nature, and of obtaining, as a result of what may be
called a Ritual Culture Drama, an abundant return of the fruits of the
earth. The whole book is rich in parallels drawn from ancient and
modern sources, and is of extraordinary interest to the Folk-lore
In the light thrown by Professor von Schroeder's researches, following
as they do upon the illuminating studies of Mannhardt, and Frazer, we
become strikingly aware of the curious vitality and persistence of
certain popular customs and beliefs; and while the two last-named
writers have rendered inestimable service to the study of Comparative
Religion by linking the practices of Classical and Medieval times with
the Folk-customs of to-day, we recognize, through von Schroeder's
work, that the root of such belief and custom is imbedded in a deeper
stratum of Folk-tradition than we had hitherto realized, that it is,
in fact, a heritage from the far-off past of the Aryan peoples.
For the purposes of our especial line of research Mysterium und Mimus
offers much of value and interest. As noted above, the main object of
these primitive Dramas was that of encouraging, we may say, ensuring,
the fertility of the Earth; thus it is not surprising that more than
one deals with the theme of which we are treating, the Freeing of
the Waters, only that whereas, in the quotations given above, the
worshippers praise Indra for his beneficent action, here Indra himself,
in propria persona appears, and vaunts his feat.
"Ich schlug den Vritra mit der Kraft des Indra!
Durch eignen Grimm war ich so stark geworden!
Ich machte für die Menschen frei die Wasser"
And the impersonated rivers speak for themselves.
"Indra, den Blitz im Arm, brach uns die Bahnen,
Er schlug den Vritra, die Ströme einschloss."
There is no need to insist further on the point that the task of the
Grail hero is in this special respect no mere literary invention, but
a heritage from the achievements of the prehistoric heroes of the
But the poems selected by Professor von Schroeder for discussion offer
us a further, and more curious, parallel with the Grail romances.
In Section VIII. of the work referred to the author discusses the
story of Rishyaçriñga, as the Mahâbhârata names the hero; here we find
a young Brahmin brought up by his father, Vibhândaka, in a lonely
forest hermitage absolutely ignorant of the outside world, and even
of the very existence of beings other than his father and himself. He
has never seen a woman, and does not know that such a creature exists.
A drought falls upon a neighbouring kingdom, and the inhabitants are
reduced to great straits for lack of food. The King, seeking to know
by what means the sufferings of his people may be relieved, learns
that so long as Rishyaçriñga continues chaste so long will the drought
endure. An old woman, who has a fair daughter of irregular life,
undertakes the seduction of the hero. The King has a ship, or raft
(both versions are given), fitted out with all possible luxury, and an
apparent Hermit's cell erected upon it. The old woman, her daughter
and companions, embark; and the river carries them to a point not far
from the young Brahmin's hermitage.
Taking advantage of the absence of his father, the girl visits
Rishyaçriñga in his forest cell, giving him to understand that she is
a Hermit, like himself, which the boy, in his innocence, believes. He
is so fascinated by her appearance and caresses that, on her leaving
him, he, deep in thought of the lovely visitor, forgets, for the first
time, his religious duties.
On his father's return he innocently relates what has happened, and
the father warns him that fiends in this fair disguise strive to tempt
hermits to their undoing. The next time the father is absent the
temptress, watching her opportunity, returns, and persuades the boy to
accompany her to her 'Hermitage' which she assures him, is far more
beautiful than his own. So soon as Rishyaçriñga is safely on board
the ship sails, the lad is carried to the capital of the rainless
land, the King gives him his daughter as wife, and so soon as the
marriage is consummated the spell is broken, and rain falls in
Professor von Schroeder points out that there is little doubt that, in
certain earlier versions of the tale, the King's daughter herself
played the rôle of temptress.
There is no doubt that a ceremonial 'marriage' very frequently formed
a part of the 'Fertility' ritual, and was supposed to be specially
efficacious in bringing about the effect desired. The practice
subsists in Indian ritual to this hour, and the surviving traces in
European Folk-custom have been noted in full by Mannhardt in his
exhaustive work on Wald und Feld-Kulte; its existence in Classic times
is well known, and it is certainly one of the living Folk-customs for
which a well-attested chain of descent can be cited. Professor von
Schroeder remarks that the efficacy of the rite appears to be enhanced
by the previous strict observance of the rule of chastity by the
What, however, is of more immediate interest for our purpose is the
fact that the Rishyaçriñga story does, in effect, possess certain
curious points of contact with the Grail tradition.
Thus, the lonely upbringing of the youth in a forest, far from the
haunts of men, his absolute ignorance of the existence of human beings
other than his parent and himself, present a close parallel to the
accounts of Perceval's youth and woodland life, as related in the
In Gerbert's continuation we are told that the marriage of the hero is
an indispensable condition of achieving the Quest, a detail which must
have been taken over from an earlier version, as Gerbert proceeds to
stultify himself by describing the solemnities of the marriage, and
the ceremonial blessing of the nuptial couch, after which hero and
heroine simultaneously agree to live a life of strict chastity, and
are rewarded by the promise that the Swan Knight shall be their
descendant--a tissue of contradictions which can only be explained by
the mal-à-droit blending of two versions, one of which knew the hero
as wedded, the other, as celibate. There can be no doubt that the
original Perceval story included the marriage of the hero.
The circumstances under which Rishyaçriñga is lured from his Hermitage
are curiously paralleled by the account, found in the Queste and
Manessier, of Perceval's temptation by a fiend, in the form of a fair
maiden, who comes to him by water in a vessel hung with black silk,
and with great riches on board.
In pointing out these parallels I wish to make my position perfectly
clear; I do not claim that either in the Rig-Veda, or in any other
early Aryan literary monument, we can hope to discover the direct
sources of the Grail legend, but what I would urge upon scholars is
the fact that, in adopting the hypothesis of a Nature Cult as a
possible origin, and examining the history of these Cults, their
evolution, and their variant forms, we do, in effect, find at every
period and stage of development undoubted points of contact, which,
though taken separately, might be regarded as accidental, in their
ensemble can hardly be thus considered. When every parallel to our
Grail story is found within the circle of a well-defined, and
carefully studied, sequence of belief and practice, when each and all
form part of a well-recognized body of tradition the descent of which
has been abundantly demonstrated, then I submit such parallels stand
on a sound basis, and it is not unreasonable to conclude that the body
of tradition containing them belongs to the same family and is to be
interpreted on the same principles as the closely analogous rites and
I suspend the notice and discussion of other poems contained in
Prof. von Schroeder's collection till we have reached a later stage of
the tradition, when their correspondence will be recognized as even
more striking and suggestive.
Tammuz and Adonis
PART I. TAMMUZ
In the previous chapter we considered certain aspects of the attitude
assumed by our Aryan forefathers towards the great processes of Nature
in their ordered sequence of Birth, Growth, and Decay. We saw that
while on one hand they, by prayer and supplication, threw themselves
upon the mercy of the Divinity, who, in their belief, was responsible
for the granting, or withholding, of the water, whether of rain, or
river, the constant supply of which was an essential condition of such
ordered sequence, they, on the other hand, believed that, by their own
actions, they could stimulate and assist the Divine activity. Hence
the dramatic representations to which I have referred, the performance,
for instance, of such a drama as the Rishyaçriñga, the ceremonial
'marriages,' and other exercises of what we now call sympathetic
magic. To quote a well-known passage from Sir J. G. Frazer:
"They commonly believed that the tie between the animal and vegetable
world was even closer than it really is--to them the principle of life
and fertility, whether animal or vegetable, was one and indivisible.
Hence actions that induced fertility in the animal world were held to
be equally efficacious in stimulating the reproductive energies of the
vegetable." How deeply this idea was rooted in the minds of our
ancestors we, their descendants, may learn from its survival to our
The ultimate, and what we may in a general sense term the classical,
form in which this sense of the community of the Life principle found
expression was that which endowed the vivifying force of Nature with a
distinct personality, divine, or semi-divine, whose experiences, in
virtue of his close kinship with humanity, might be expressed in terms
of ordinary life.
At this stage the progress of the seasons, the birth of vegetation in
spring, or its revival after the autumn rains, its glorious fruition
in early summer, its decline and death under the maleficent influence
either of the scorching sun, or the bitter winter cold, symbolically
represented the corresponding stages in the life of this
anthropomorphically conceived Being, whose annual progress from birth
to death, from death to a renewed life, was celebrated with a solemn
ritual of corresponding alternations of rejoicing and lamentation.
Recent research has provided us with abundant material for the study
of the varying forms of this Nature Cult, the extraordinary importance
of which as an evolutionary factor in what we may term the concrete
expression of human thought and feeling is only gradually becoming
Before turning our attention to this, the most important, section of
our investigation, it may be well to consider one characteristic
difference between the Nature ritual of the Rig-Veda, and that
preserved to us in the later monuments of Greek antiquity.
In the Rig-Veda, early as it is, we find the process of religious
evolution already far advanced; the god has separated himself from his
worshippers, and assumed an anthropomorphic form. Indra, while still
retaining traces of his 'weather' origin, is no longer, to borrow Miss
Harrison's descriptive phrase, 'an automatic explosive thunder-storm,'
he wields the thunderbolt certainly, but he appears in heroic form to
receive the offerings made to him, and to celebrate his victory in a
solemn ritual dance. In Greek art and literature, on the other hand,
where we might expect to find an even more advanced conception, we are
faced with one seemingly more primitive and inchoate, i.e., the idea
of a constantly recurring cycle of Birth, Death, and Resurrection, or
Re-Birth, of all things in Nature, this cycle depending upon the
activities of an entity at first vaguely conceived of as the 'Luck of
the Year,' the Eniautos Daimon. This Being, at one stage of evolution
theriomorphic--he might assume the form of a bull, a goat, or a snake
(the latter, probably from the close connection of the reptile with
the earth, being the more general form)--only gradually, and by
distinctly traceable stages, assumed an anthropomorphic shape.
This gives to the study of Greek antiquity a special and peculiar
value, since in regard to the body of religious belief and observance
with which we are here immediately concerned, neither in what we may
not improperly term its ultimate (early Aryan), nor in what has
been generally considered its proximate (Syro-Phoenician), source,
have these intermediate stages been preserved; in each case the ritual
remains are illustrative of a highly developed cult, distinctly
anthropomorphic in conception. I offer no opinion as to the critical
significance of this fact, but I would draw the attention of scholars
to its existence.
That the process of evolution was complete at a very early date has
been proved by recent researches into the Sumerian-Babylonian
civilization. We know now that the cult of the god Tammuz, who, if
not the direct original of the Phoenician-Greek Adonis, is at least
representative of a common parent deity, may be traced back to 3000
B.C., while it persisted among the Sabeans at Harran into the Middle
While much relating to the god and his precise position in the
Sumerian-Babylonian Pantheon still remains obscure, fragmentary
cuneiform texts connected with the religious services of the period
have been discovered, and to a considerable extent deciphered, and we
are thus in a position to judge, from the prayers and invocations
addressed to the deity, what were the powers attributed to, and the
benefits besought from, him. These texts are of a uniform character;
they are all 'Lamentations,' or 'Wailings,' having for their exciting
cause the disappearance of Tammuz from this upper earth, and the
disastrous effects produced upon animal and vegetable life by his
absence. The woes of the land and the folk are set forth in poignant
detail, and Tammuz is passionately invoked to have pity upon his
worshippers, and to end their sufferings by a speedy return. This
return, we find from other texts, was effected by the action of a
goddess, the mother, sister, or paramour, of Tammuz, who, descending
into the nether world, induced the youthful deity to return with her
to earth. It is perfectly clear from the texts which have been
deciphered that Tammuz is not to be regarded merely as representing
the Spirit of Vegetation; his influence is operative, not only in the
vernal processes of Nature, as a Spring god, but in all its
reproductive energies, without distinction or limitation, he may be
considered as an embodiment of the Life principle, and his cult as a
Mr Stephen Langdon inclines to believe that the original Tammuz
typified the vivifying waters; he writes: "Since, in Babylonia as in
Egypt, the fertility of the soil depended upon irrigation, it is but
natural to expect that the youthful god who represents the birth and
death of nature, would represent the beneficent waters which flooded
the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates in the late winter, and which
ebbed away, and nearly disappeared, in the canals and rivers in the
period of Summer drought. We find therefore that the theologians
regarded this youthful divinity as belonging to the cult of Eridu,
centre of the worship of Ea, lord of the nether sea." In a note to
this passage Mr Langdon adds: "He appears in the great theological
list as Dami-zi, ab-zu, 'Tammuz of the nether sea,' i.e., 'the faithful
son of the fresh waters which come from the earth.'"
This presents us with an interesting analogy to the citations given in
the previous chapter from the Rig-Veda; the Tammuz cult is specially
valuable as providing us with evidence of the gradual evolution of the
Life Cult from the early conception of the vivifying power of the
waters, to the wider recognition of a common principle underlying
all manifestations of Life.
This is very clearly brought out in the beautiful Lament for Tammuz,
published by Mr Langdon in Tammuz and Ishtar, and also in Sumerian and
"In Eanna, high and low, there is weeping,
Wailing for the house of the lord they raise.
The wailing is for the plants; the first lament is 'they grow not.'
The wailing is for the barley; the ears grow not.
For the habitations and flocks it is; they produce not.
For the perishing wedded ones, for perishing children it is; the
dark-headed people create not.
The wailing is for the great river; it brings the flood no more.
The wailing is for the fields of men; the gunu grows no more.
The wailing is for the fish-ponds; the dasuhur fish spawn not.
The wailing is for the cane-brake; the fallen stalks grow not.
The wailing is for the forests; the tamarisks grow not.
The wailing is for the highlands; the masgam trees grow not.
The wailing is for the garden store-house; honey and wine are
The wailing is for the meadows; the bounty of the garden, the
sihtu plants grow not.
The wailing is for the palace; life unto distant days is not."
Can anything be more expressive of the community of life animating the
whole of Nature than this poignantly worded lament?
A point which differentiates the worship of Tammuz from the kindred,
and better known, cult of Adonis, is the fact that we have no
liturgical record of the celebration of the resurrection of the deity;
it certainly took place, for the effects are referred to:
"Where grass was not, there grass is eaten,
Where water was not, water is drunk,
Where the cattle sheds were not, cattle sheds are built."
While this distinctly implies the revival of vegetable and animal
life, those features (i.e., resurrection and sacred marriage), which
made the Adonis ritual one of rejoicing as much as of lamentation, are
absent from liturgical remains of the Tammuz cult.
A detail which has attracted the attention of scholars is the lack of
any artistic representation of this ritual, a lack which is the more
striking in view of the important position which these 'Wailings for
Tammuz' occupy in the extant remains of Babylonian liturgies. On this
point Mr Langdon makes an interesting suggestion: "It is probable that
the service of wailing for the dying god, the descent of the mother,
and the resurrection, were attended by mysterious rituals. The actual
mysteries may have been performed in a secret chamber, and
consequently the scenes were forbidden in Art. This would account for
the surprising dearth of archaeological evidence concerning a cult
upon which the very life of mankind was supposed to depend."
In view of the fact that my suggestion as to the possible later
development of these Life Cults as Mysteries has aroused considerable
opposition, it is well to bear in mind that such development is held
by those best acquainted with the earliest forms of the ritual to have
been not merely possible, but to have actually taken place, and that
at a very remote date. Mr Langdon quotes a passage referring to
"Kings who in their day played the rôle of Tammuz in the mystery of
this cult"; he considers that here we have to do with kings who, by a
symbolic act, escaped the final penalty of sacrifice as representative
of the Dying God.
The full importance of the evidence above set forth will become more
clearly apparent as we proceed with our investigation; here I would
simply draw attention to the fact that we now possess definite proof
that, at a period of some 3000 years B.C., the idea of a Being upon
whose life and reproductive activities the very existence of Nature
and its corresponding energies was held to depend, yet who was himself
subject to the vicissitudes of declining powers and death, like an
ordinary mortal, had already assumed a fixed, and practically final,
form; further, that this form was specially crystallized in ritual
observances. In our study of the later manifestations of this cult we
shall find that this central idea is always, and unalterably, the
same, and is, moreover, frequently accompanied by a remarkable
correspondence of detail. The chain of evidence is already strong,
and we may justly claim that the links added by further research
strengthen, while they lengthen, that chain.
PART II. ADONIS
While it is only of comparatively recent date that information as to
the exact character of the worship directed to Tammuz has been
available and the material we at present possess is but fragmentary in
character, the corresponding cult of the Phoenician-Greek divinity we
know as Adonis has for some years been the subject of scholarly
research. Not only have the details of the ritual been examined and
discussed, and the surviving artistic evidence described and
illustrated, but from the anthropological side attention has been
forcibly directed to its importance as a factor in the elucidation of
certain widespread Folk-beliefs and practices.
We know now that the worship of Adonis, which enjoyed among the Greeks
a popularity extending to our own day, was originally of Phoenician
origin, its principal centres being the cities of Byblos, and Aphaka.
From Phoenicia it spread to the Greek islands, the earliest evidence
of the worship being found in Cyprus, and from thence to the mainland,
where it established itself firmly. The records of the cult go back
to 700 B.C., but it may quite possibly be of much earlier date. Mr
Langdon suggests that the worship of the divinity we know as Adonis,
may, under another name, reach back to an antiquity equal with that we
can now ascribe to the cult of Tammuz. In its fully evolved classical
form the cult of Adonis offers, as it were, a halfway house, between
the fragmentary relics of Aryan and Babylonian antiquity, and the
wealth of Medieval and Modern survivals to which the ingenuity and
patience of contemporary scholars have directed our attention.
We all know the mythological tale popularly attached to the name of
Adonis; that he was a fair youth, beloved of Aphrodite, who, wounded
in the thigh by a wild boar, died of his wound. The goddess, in
despair at his death, by her prayers won from Zeus the boon that
Adonis be allowed to return to earth for a portion of each year, and
henceforward the youthful god divides his time between the goddess of
Hades, Persephone, and Aphrodite. But the importance assumed by the
story, the elaborate ceremonial with which the death of Adonis was
mourned, and his restoration to life fêted, the date and character of
the celebrations, all leave no doubt that the personage with whom we
are dealing was no mere favourite of a goddess, but one with whose
life and well-being the ordinary processes of Nature, whether animal
or vegetable, were closely and intimately concerned. In fact the
central figure of these rites, by whatever name he may be called, is
the somewhat elusive and impersonal entity, who represents in
anthropomorphic form the principle of animate Nature, upon whose
preservation, and unimpaired energies, the life of man, directly, and
Before proceeding to examine these rites there is one point, to which
I have alluded earlier, in another connection, upon which our minds
must be quite clear, i.e., the nature of the injury suffered. Writers
upon the subject are of one accord in considering the usual account to
be but a euphemistic veiling of the truth, while the close relation
between the stories of Adonis and Attis, and the practices associated
with the cult, place beyond any shadow of a doubt the fact that the
true reason for this universal mourning was the cessation, or
suspension, by injury or death, of the reproductive energy of the god
upon whose virile activity vegetable life directly, and human life
indirectly, depended. What we have need to seize and to insist
upon is the overpowering influence which the sense of Life, the need
for Life, the essential Sanctity of the Life-giving faculty, exercised
upon primitive religions. Vellay puts this well when he says: "En
réalité c'est sur la conception de la vie physique, considérée dans son
origine, et dans son action, et dans le double principe qui l'anime,
que repose tout le cycle religieux des peuples Orientaux de
Professor von Schroeder says even more precisely and emphatically:
"In der Religion der Arischen Urzeit ist Alles auf Lebensbejahung
gerichtet, Mann kann den Phallus als ihr Beherrschendes Symbol
betrachten." And in spite of the strong opposition to this cult
manifested in Indian literature, beginning with the Rig-Veda, and
ripening to fruition in the Upanishads, in spite of the rise of Buddhism,
with its opposing dictum of renunciation, the 'Life-Cult' asserted its
essential vitality against all opposition, and under modified forms
represents the 'popular' religion of India to this day.
Each and all of the ritual dramas, reconstructed in the pages of
Mysterium und Mimus bear, more or less distinctly, the stamp of their
'Fertility' origin, while outside India the pages of Frazer and
Mannhardt, and numerous other writers on Folk-lore and Ethnology,
record the widespread, and persistent, survival of these rites, and
their successful defiance of the spread of civilization.
It is to this special group of belief and practice that the Adonis
(and more especially its Phrygian counterpart the Attis) worship
belong, and even when transplanted to the more restrained and cultured
environment of the Greek mainland, they still retained their primitive
character. Farnell, in his Cults of the Greek States, refers to the
worship of Adonis as "a ritual that the more austere State religion of
Greece probably failed to purify, the saner minds, bred in a religious
atmosphere that was, on the whole, genial, and temperate, revolted
from the din of cymbals and drums, the meaningless ecstasies of sorrow
and joy, that marked the new religion."
It is, I submit, indispensable for the purposes of our investigation
that the essential character and significance of the cults with which
we are dealing should not be evaded or ignored, but faced, frankly
admitted and held in mind during the progress of our enquiry.
Having now determined the general character of the ritual, what were
the specific details?
The date of the feast seems to have varied in different countries;
thus in Greece it was celebrated in the Spring, the moment of the
birth of Vegetation; according to Saint Jerome, in Palestine the
celebration fell in June, when plant life was in its first full
luxuriance. In Cyprus, at the autumnal equinox, i.e., the beginning
of the year in the Syro-Macedonian calendar, the death of Adonis
falling on the 23rd of September, his resurrection on the 1st of
October, the beginning of a New Year. This would seem to indicate
that here Adonis was considered, as Vellay suggests, less as the god
of Vegetation than as the superior and nameless Lord of Life
(Adonis=Syriac Adôn, Lord), under whose protection the year was
placed. He is the Eniautos Daimon.
In the same way as the dates varied, so, also, did the order of the
ritual; generally speaking the elaborate ceremonies of mourning for
the dead god, and committing his effigy to the waves, preceded the
joyous celebration of his resurrection, but in Alexandria the sequence
was otherwise; the feast began with the solemn and joyous celebration
of the nuptials of Adonis and Aphrodite, at the conclusion of which a
Head, of papyrus, representing the god, was, with every show of
mourning, committed to the waves, and borne within seven days by a
current (always to be counted upon at that season of the year) to
Byblos, where it was received and welcomed with popular rejoicing.
The duration of the feast varied from two days, as at Alexandria, to
seven or eight.
Connected with the longer period of the feast were the so-called
'Gardens of Adonis,' baskets, or pans, planted with quick growing
seeds, which speedily come to fruition, and as speedily wither. In
the modern survivals of the cult three days form the general term for
the flowering of these gardens.
The most noticeable feature of the ritual was the prominence assigned
to women; "ce sont les femmes qui le pleurent, et qui l'accompagnent à
sa tombe. Elles sanglotent éperdument pendant les nuits,--c'est leur
dieu plus que tout autre, et seules elles veulent pleurer sa mort,
et chanter sa résurrection."
Thus in the tenth century the festival received the Arabic name of
El-Bûgat, or 'The Festival of the Weeping Women.'
One very curious practice during these celebrations was that of
cutting off the hair in honour of the god; women who hesitated to make
this sacrifice must offer themselves to strangers, either in the
temple, or on the market-place, the gold received as the price of
their favours being offered to the goddess. This obligation only
lasted for one day. It was also customary for the priests of
Adonis to mutilate themselves in imitation of the god, a distinct
proof, if one were needed, of the traditional cause of his death.
Turning from a consideration of the Adonis ritual, its details, and
significance, to an examination of the Grail romances, we find that
their mise-en-scène provides a striking series of parallels with the
Classical celebrations, parallels, which instead of vanishing, as
parallels have occasionally an awkward habit of doing, before closer
investigation, rather gain in force the more closely they are studied.
Thus the central figure is either a dead knight on a bier (as in the
Gawain versions), or a wounded king on a litter; when wounded the
injury corresponds with that suffered by Adonis and Attis.
Closely connected with the wounding of the king is the destruction
which has fallen on the land, which will be removed when the king is
healed. The version of Sone de Nansai is here of extreme interest;
the position is stated with so much clearness and precision that the
conclusion cannot be evaded--we are face to face with the dreaded
calamity which it was the aim of the Adonis ritual to avert, the
temporary suspension of all the reproductive energies of Nature.
While the condition of the king is the cause of general and vociferous
lamentation, a special feature, never satisfactorily accounted for, is
the presence of a weeping woman, or several weeping women. Thus in
the interpolated visit of Gawain to the Grail castle, found in the
C group of Perceval MSS., the Grail-bearer weeps piteously, as she
does also in Diû Crône.
In the version of the prose Lancelot Gawain, during the night, sees
twelve maidens come to the door of the chamber where the Grail is
kept, kneel down, and weep bitterly, in fact behave precisely as did
the classical mourners for Adonis--"Elles sanglotent éperdument pendant
la nuit."--behaviour for which the text, as it now stands, provides
no shadow of explanation or excuse. The Grail is here the most revered
of Christian relics, the dwellers in the castle of Corbenic have all
that heart can desire, with the additional prestige of being the
guardians of the Grail; if the feature be not a belated survival,
which has lost its meaning, it defies any explanation whatsoever.
In Diû Crône alone, where the Grail-bearer and her maidens are the
sole living beings in an abode of the Dead, is any explanation of the
'Weeping Women' attempted, but an interpolated passage in the Heralds'
College MS. of the Perceval states that when the Quest is achieved,
the hero shall learn the cause of the maiden's grief, and also the
explanation of the Dead Knight upon the bier:
"del graal q'vient aprés
E purquei plure tut adés
La pucele qui le sustient
De la biere qu'aprés vient
Savera la vérité adonques
Ceo que nul ne pot saveir onques
Pur nule rien qui avenist."
Of course in the Perceval there is neither a Weeping Maiden, nor a
Bier, and the passage must therefore be either an unintelligent
addition by a scribe familiar with the Gawain versions, or an
interpolation from a source which did contain the features in
question. So far as the texts at our disposal are concerned, both
features belong exclusively to the Gawain, and not to the Perceval
Quest. The interpolation is significant as it indicates a surviving
sense of the importance of this feature.
In the Perlesvaus we have the curious detail of a maiden who has lost
her hair as a result of the hero's failure to ask the question, and
the consequent sickness of the Fisher King. The occurrence of this
detail may be purely fortuitous, but at the same time it is admissible
to point out that the Adonis cults do provide us with a parallel in
the enforced loss of hair by the women taking part in these rites,
while no explanation of this curious feature has so far as I am aware
been suggested by critics of the text.
We may also note the fact that the Grail castle is always situated in
the close vicinity of water, either on or near the sea, or on the
banks of an important river. In two cases the final home of the Grail
is in a monastery situated upon an island. The presence of water,
either sea, or river, is an important feature in the Adonis cult, the
effigy of the dead god being, not buried in the earth, but thrown into
It will thus be seen that, in suggesting a form of Nature worship,
analogous to this well-known cult, as the possible ultimate source
from which the incidents and mise-en-scène of the Grail stories were
derived, we are relying not upon an isolated parallel, but upon a
group of parallels, which alike in incident and intention offer, not
merely a resemblance to, but also an explanation of, the perplexing
problems of the Grail literature. We must now consider the question
whether incidents so remote in time may fairly and justly be utilized
in this manner.
Medieval and Modern Forms of Nature Ritual
Readers of the foregoing pages may, not improbably, object that, while
we have instanced certain curious and isolated parallels from early
Aryan literature and tradition, and, what, from the point of view of
declared intention, appears to be a kindred group of religious belief
and practice in pre-Historic and Classical times, the two, so far,
show no direct signs of affiliation, while both may be held to be far
removed, in point of date, alike from one another, and from the
romantic literature of the twelfth century.
This objection is sound in itself, but if we can show by modern
parallels that the ideas which took form and shape in early Aryan
Drama, and Babylonian and Classic Ritual, not only survive to our day,
but are found in combination with features corresponding minutely with
details recorded in early Aryan literature, we may hold the gulf to be
bridged, and the common origin, and close relationship, of the
different stages to be an ascertained fact. At the outset, and before
examining the evidence collected by scholars, I would remind my
readers that the modern Greeks have retained, in many instances under
changed names, no inconsiderable portion of their ancient mythological
beliefs, among them the 'Adonis' celebrations; the 'Gardens of Adonis'
blossom and fade to-day, as they did many centuries ago, and I have
myself spoken with a scholar who has seen 'women, at the door of their
houses, weeping for Adonis.'
For evidence of the widespread character of Medieval and Modern
survivals we have only to consult the epoch-making works of Mannhardt,
Wald und Feld-Kulte, and Frazer, The Golden Bough; in the pages of
these volumes we shall find more than sufficient for our purpose.
From the wealth of illustration with which these works abound I have
selected merely such instances as seem to apply more directly to the
subject of our investigation.
Thus, in many places, it is still the custom to carry a figure
representing the Vegetation Spirit on a bier, attended by mourning
women, and either bury the figure, throw it into water (as a rain
charm), or, after a mock death, carry the revivified Deity, with
rejoicing, back to the town. Thus in the Lechrain a man in black
women's clothes is borne on a bier, followed by men dressed as
professional women mourners making lamentation, thrown on the village
dung-heap, drenched with water, and buried in straw.
In Russia the Vegetation or Year Spirit is known as Yarilo, and is
represented by a doll with phallic attributes, which is enclosed in a
coffin, and carried through the streets to the accompaniment of
lamentation by women whose emotions have been excited by drink.
Mannhardt gives the lament as follows: "Wessen war Er schuldig? Er
war so gut! Er wird nicht mehr aufstehen! O! Wie sollen wir uns von
Dir trennen? Was ist das Leben wenn Du nicht mehr da bist? Erhebe
Dich, wenn auch nur auf ein Stündchen! Aber Er steht nicht auf, Er
steht nicht auf!"
In other forms of the ritual, we find distinct traces of the
resuscitation of the Vegetation Deity, occasionally accompanied by
evidence of rejuvenation. Thus, in Lausitz, on Laetare Sunday (the
4th Sunday in Lent), women with mourning veils carry a straw figure,
dressed in a man's shirt, to the bounds of the next village, where
they tear the effigy to pieces, hang the shirt on a young and
flourishing tree, "schöne Wald-Baum," which they proceed to cut
down, and carry home with every sign of rejoicing. Here evidently the
young tree is regarded as a rejuvenation of the person represented in
the first instance by the straw figure.
In many parts of Europe to-day the corresponding ceremonies, very
generally held at Whitsuntide, include the mock execution of the
individual representing the Vegetation Spirit, frequently known as the
King of the May. In Bohemia the person playing the rôle of the King
is, with his attendants, dressed in bark, and decked with garlands
of flowers; at the conclusion of the ceremonies the King is allowed a
short start, and is then pursued by the armed attendants. If he is
not overtaken he holds office for a year, but if overtaken, he suffers
a mock decapitation, head-dress, or crown, being struck off, and the
pretended corpse is then borne on a bier to the next village.
Mannhardt, discussing this point, remarks that in the mock execution we
must recognize "Ein verbreiteter und jedenfalls uralter Gebrauch." He
enumerates the various modes of death, shooting, stabbing (in the
latter case a bladder filled with blood, and concealed under the
clothes, is pierced); in Bohemia, decapitation, occasionally drowning
(which primarily represents a rain charm), is the form adopted. He
then goes on to remark that this ceremonial death must have been
generally followed by resuscitation, as in Thuringia, where the 'Wild
Man,' as the central figure is there named, is brought to life again
by the Doctor, while the survival, in the more elaborate Spring
processions of this latter character, even where he plays no special
rôle, points to the fact that his part in the proceedings was
originally a more important one.
That Mannhardt was not mistaken is proved by the evidence of the
kindred Dances, a subject we shall consider later; there we shall find
the Doctor playing his old-time rôle, and restoring to life the slain
representative of the Vegetation Spirit. The character of the
Doctor, or Medicine Man, formed, as I believe, at one time, no
unimportant link in the chain which connects these practices with the
The signification of the resuscitation ceremony is obscured in cases
where the same figure undergoes death and revival without any
corresponding change of form. This point did not escape Mannhardt's
acute critical eye; he remarks that, in cases where, e.g., in Swabia,
the 'King' is described as "ein armer alter Mann," who has lived seven
years in the woods (the seven winter months), a scene of rejuvenation
should follow--"diese scheint meistenteils verloren gegangen; doch
vielleicht scheint es nur so." He goes on to draw attention to the
practice in Reideberg, bei Halle, where, after burying a straw figure,
called the Old Man, the villagers dance round the May-Pole, and he
suggests that the 'Old Man' represents the defunct Vegetation Spirit,
the May Tree, that Spirit resuscitated, and refers in this connection
to the "durchaus verwandten Asiatischen Gebrauchen des Attis, und
The foregoing evidence offers, I think, sufficient proof of the, now
generally admitted, relationship between Classical, Medieval, and
Modern forms of Nature ritual.
But what of the relation to early Aryan practice? Can that, also, be
In this connection I would draw attention to Chapter 17 of Mysterium
und Mimus, entitled, Ein Volkstümlicher Umzug beim Soma-Fest.
Here Professor von Schroeder discusses the real meaning and
significance of a very curious little poem (Rig-Veda, 9. 112); the
title by which it is generally known, Alles lauft nach Geld, does
not, at first sight, fit the content of the verse, and the suggestion
of scholars who have seen in it a humorous enumeration of different
trades and handicrafts does not explain the fact that the Frog and the
Horse appear in it.
To Professor von Schroeder belongs the credit of having discovered
that the personnel of the poem corresponds with extraordinary
exactitude to the Figures of the Spring and Summer
'Fertility-exciting' processions, described with such fulness of
detail by Mannhardt. Especially is this the case with the Whitsuntide
procession at Värdegötzen, in Hanover, where we find the group of
phallic and fertility demons, who, on Prof. von Schroeder's hypothesis,
figure in the song, in concrete, and actual form. The Vegetation
Spirit appears in the song as an Old Man, while his female
counterpart, an Old Woman, is described as 'filling the hand-mill.'
Prof. von Schroeder points out that in some parts of Russia the
'Baba-jaga' as the Corn Mother is called, is an Old Woman, who flies
through the air in a hand-mill. The Doctor, to whom we have referred
above, is mentioned twice in the four verses composing the song; he
was evidently regarded as an important figure; while the whole is put
into the mouth of a 'Singer' evidently the Spokesman of the party, who
proclaims their object, "Verschiednes könnend suchen wir Gute Dinge,"
i.e., gifts in money and kind, as such folk processions do to-day.
The whole study is of extraordinary interest for Folk-lore students,
and so far as our especial investigation is concerned it seems to me
to supply the necessary proof of the identity, and persistence, of
Aryan folk-custom and tradition.
A very important modification of the root idea, and one which appears
to have a direct bearing on the sources of the Grail tradition, was that
by which, among certain peoples, the rôle of the god, his
responsibility for providing the requisite rain upon which the
fertility of the land, and the life of the folk, depended, was
combined with that of the King.
This was the case among the Celts; McCulloch, in The Religion of the
Celts, discussing the question of the early Irish geasa or taboo,
explains the geasa of the Irish kings as designed to promote the
welfare of the tribe, the making of rain and sunshine on which their
prosperity depended. "Their observance made the earth fruitful,
produced abundance and prosperity, and kept both the king and his land
from misfortune. The Kings were divinities on whom depended
fruitfulness and plenty, and who must therefore submit to obey their
The same idea seems to have prevailed in early Greece; Mr A. B. Cook,
in his studies on The European Sky-God, remarks that the king in early
Greece was regarded as the representative of Zeus: his duties could be
satisfactorily discharged only by a man who was perfect, and without
blemish, i.e., by a man in the prime of life, suffering from no defect
of body, or mind; he quotes in illustration the speech of Odysseus
(Od. 19. 109 ff.). "'Even as a king without blemish, who ruleth
god-fearing over many mighty men, and maintaineth justice, while the
black earth beareth wheat and barley, and the trees are laden with
fruit, and the flocks bring forth without fail, and the sea yieldeth
fish by reason of his good rule, and the folk prosper beneath him.'
The king who is without blemish has a flourishing kingdom, the king
who is maimed has a kingdom diseased like himself, thus the Spartans
were warned by an oracle to beware of a 'lame reign.'"
A most remarkable modern survival of this idea is recorded by Dr
Frazer in the latest edition of The Golden Bough, and is so
complete and suggestive that I make no apology for transcribing it at
some length. The Shilluk, an African tribe, inhabit the banks of the
White Nile, their territory extending on the west bank from Kaka in
the north, to Lake No in the south, on the east bank from Fashoda to
Taufikia, and some 35 miles up the Sohat river. Numbering some 40,000
in all, they are a pastoral people, their wealth consisting in
flocks and herds, grain and millet. The King resides at Fashoda, and
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