INTRODUCTION TO ALCHEMY
The Ageless Wisdom is experiencing another revival. Throughout human history, the hidden Truth persists through times of decline, obscurity, and renewal. There is always a small group of people who preserve it and pass it on through dark periods, and in other enlightened eras, whole societies are inspired by this systematic and comprehensive account of the evolution of Spirit in man and Nature, how the universe came to exist, how it operates, and man’s place within it. Though rumor spread of covert Masters who could transform common minerals into gold, the real work of alchemy is the art of Self-realization, defined as the growth of the soul as anthropod and redemption of the world. Ignorance and error becomes enlightenment and freedom through Sincerity and Detachment.
This teaching was last shared widely for about fifty years after the American Reconstruction, and it was distorted by inflated style and old Hollywood glamour. Many of the ideas remain in corrupted variations. Some contemporary scholars noticed the eternal return of this oftentimes secret knowledge and foresaw a recovery around 2012 that they predicted would endure for about 20 years. The visionaries of the last Hermetic Age also noted this natural cycle and hid a treasure for a quest hero whom they expected would be active in the world seven generations after their 1893 meeting.
This treatise is divided into two parts. “The Hidden History of the World” outlines the first principles and goals of Hermeticism. This is followed by a mythic history and legendary origin of the Ageless Wisdom, a description of its central figure, and the requirements of the Art. “The Quest for the Grail” includes special consideration of the object, the textual record, a mythopoeic rendering of the plot, and the quest hero compared to the Fool of the Tarot. It concludes with a cross-cultural study of minerals and the rumors of the late activities of the Guardians of the Gemstone of Paradise.
In the Biblical tradition, mankind was born ignorant, lived in confusion and chaos, and ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Joy and Suffering. Though hidden, the Tree of Life could be found. In the Hermetic tradition, there are two more trees, with seven flowers and eight fruits. The enduring seeker will discover they are the Tree of Wisdom and the Wish-Fulfilling Tree. These trees give extrasensory perceptions and extraordinary mind-powers; they provide body powers and effortless perfection. But they are surpassed by a fifth tree: the Tree of Truth, and its boons of mercy, integrity, and generosity. These are the incomparable treasures of the Hermetic tradition, whose fantastic chronicle now appears among the world of men and encourages them to seek the Treasure Hard-to-Attain.
THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE WORLD
Now popular among scholars and in the marketplace, Hermeticism is an ancient school of geometry, astronomy and its influences, rhetoric and music, and knowledge of medicine, herbs, stones and metals, and birds, fish, and reptiles. Hermetic thought tends to be nondiscursive, that is, communicated through symbols and cryptography; the Hermetic cosmos is one of signs, systems of relationship and analogical thinking (a is to b = c is to x). Hermeticism posits a hylozoistic cosmos, one which is alive and sentient with a close and harmonious relationship between macrocosm and microcosm; the Tabula Smaragdina, the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, states it clearly: “As above, so below.” The goal of the Hermeticist’s work is to know God and gaze aesthetically in contemplation of beauty; or, as Dr. Carl G. Jung tells it, the Opus Magnum is the rescue of the human soul and salvation of the cosmos. Hermetic life privileges scribal virtues, mastery of dialectics and discernment, the student-teacher relationship, and an attitude of regret and repentance. Suffering and error are obligatory. Hermetic texts posit both 1) a pessimistic dualism and 2) an optimistic monism, ultimately complementary. Ancient clarity and precision degenerated in time into deliberate obscurity and an inflated style; in the medieval period, Hermetic science was regarded as maliciously manipulative and injurious, and Hermeticists were condemned and persecuted. Throughout history, the tradition has also been hidden or silenced for financial and political advantage.
Hermeticism was widely revived and radically reinterpreted to Enlightenment ideals by Freemasonry and the Rosicrucians, and American history is essentially an occult movement toward the appearance of an enigmatic apocalyptic Christ; the oracle of Hermes, not for the diabolically blind, is written on the windpipe of a goose (Ebeling 17). Masonry itself is as old as architecture; Dame Frances Yates writes, “at some point, operative masonry, or the actual craft of building, turned into speculative masonry, or the moral and mystical interpretation of building, into a secret society with esoteric rites and teachings” (266). The Bible traces Masonry back further, to the exile in the Land of Nod, where Cain built a city for farmers, shepherds, musicians, and smiths of bronze and iron. The Masonic tradition supposedly preserves a pre-diluvian original knowledge corrupted, lost, and partially recovered; Masons claim an oral tradition that passed from Noah to the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Ethiopians, Indians and Chinese. “In Greece Orpheus, who acquired his knowledge from the Egyptians, founded the first ‘fraternity.’ Even Plato’s Academy was a lodge” (Ebeling 129). In the Arcana Arcanissima (The Most Secret Secrets of Pious Chemical Hercules), the first king of Egypt, Ham, son of Noah, secretly transmits a written description of alchemy to his Son Migraim, or Mizraim, [Osiris] and advisor Thoth [Hermes], who teaches it to Isis (Ebeling 116).
Marie-Louise Von Franz tells it differently. Transmission was from the angels to Isis who passes it to her son Horus. In the Bible, it is interpreted as a corrupting incident, but in the Hermetic tradition, it is a marvelous achievement. When the angel first appears to Isis, he is lustful. “She puts him off, because she wants to get the alchemical secret out of him; she makes a bargain with him and will only give herself to him if he firsts tells her all he knows about that” (Von Franz 45). Isis refuses his desire until he shows her the sign on his head and knowledge of the great mystery, which comes with an oath of secrecy. Von Franz suggests this is an example of the relationship between instinct and archetype and illuminates the role of Eros in creating higher consciousness through ethical tension: “The libido irruption of the unconscious presents itself on a relatively animal or low level first. We always have to decide whether that is genuine sex or a disguised unconscious impulse, which really implies knowledge or a progress of consciousness. To delay is wise” (57). Von Franz says, “If you go into the history of Eros, you will find that he is a variation of Hermes; the Eros of antiquity is similar to Hermes Kyllenios [Priapic Mercury]” (118).
The central figure of Hermeticism, Hermes Trismegistus, is a fusing of the Egyptian god Thoth and Greco-Roman Mercury as the god of writing, astronomy, math and magic. This character is a syncretic fiction. Thoth worship was centered in the Egyptian Hermopolis Magna, named by the Greeks; he is the eldest son of the solar deity Ammon-Ra and credited as the inventor of writing and math, god of wisdom and administration, patron of scribes, ruler of the calendar and stars, scribe who measures, friendliest god to man, and messenger of the gods whose magic shields against serpent’s bite and evil eye. For Homer, Hermes is the God of thieves and trade, a soul conductor. For Hesiod, he is a god of chance and cunning. According to medieval Christians, Hermes was the name adopted by Enoch after traveling to China (Ebeling 7). In the Hermetic kabbalah, it is said Enoch walked with God then traveled to Heaven. An apocryphal record describes his appointment as guardian of celestial treasures, chief of archangels, and scribe of God; in the ancient occult tradition, he is the keeper of the secrets and the “voice” of God, the lesser YHWH called Metatron or Metator, meaning guide, messenger, or measurer.
Von Franz’s account of the apprenticeship of Isis by angels resembles Genesis 6 and the legend of the Flood. It is told that when mortals began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves from the daughters of men. Their children were the heroes of old, warriors of renown. Also, the Nephilim, the Giants, were on the earth in those days--and afterward--the Anakites, the Rephaim, Emim, Zamummim, Anakim, Horim and Avvim. But the earth was corrupt, and the Council of Immortals agreed that the land was filled with violence. Humans were arrogant, ambitious and murderous fools. God’s Creation was wicked, overpopulated and noisy. First, the world was nearly destroyed by flood; then Noah cursed his grandsons into slavery to their Uncles. Among Egypt, Cush, Sheeba, Rama, and Nimrod of Persian Babylon, Canaan served the Smiths, Masons, and Arabs. With one language and the same words, they spread across the face of the earth and built upon the Plains a city with a tower reaching for Heaven. The God of Black Arts and Immortal Most Hateful, Lawless, and Mad came down to see the city and tower that the mortals built. He said, “Look, they are one people, and they all have one language. This is only the beginning of what they will do. Nothing that they propose to do now will be impossible.” With the help of the Council of Immortals, Hermes Kriophorus frustrated understanding and co-operation among men by confusing the language.
The immortals fled an Egypt in chaos and are expected to return to the West after a catastrophe (Ebeling 7). As John Allegro tells it, six-thousand years ago, a king and priests managed a city built by Masons and Smiths for Traders and Organized Labor, and arts and crafts became the specialist industries of scholars and professionals (8). Experiments with plants and astronomical correspondences became the privileged knowledge of the elders, who were strict guardians of their secrets. Writing was a late development in evolution and originated out of an economic necessity. Writing came to be regarded as an instrument of magic power. Words represent objects, and perception of objects and human identity is in part conditioned by words by which perceptions are nested (Ong 68). Plato regarded writing as an alien tool. Knowledge was first written only to survive war and oppression and then employed much punning in a coded hoax.
In agreement with the fanciful scribes of the Hermetic tradition, contemporary linguists and lettered scholars have also proposed that the different languages of Earth are variations from a common source. The etymological evidence suggests that the ancient Sumerian tongue is the origin of both Semitic (Hebrew, Aramaic) and Indo-European (Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and English) languages. For example, the Latin scala is ‘ladder’; in Sanskrit skan is ‘going up’; in Sumerian zig an is “rise up’. (Allegro 4-5). In his classic study of orality and writing, Walter Ong asserts, “Every alphabet in the world—Hebrew, Ugaritic, Greek, Roman, Cyrillic, Arabic, Tamil, Malayalam, Korean—derives in one way or another from the original Semitic development, though, as in Ugaritic and Korean script, the physical design of the letters may not always be related to the Semitic design” (Ong 89). In Figuring Poesis: A Mythical Geometry of Postmodernism, Evans Lansing Smith shows how Sanskrit letters, a golden vibration in the formless realm of pure ideas, and Mother Kali correspond to the Hebrew letters aleph – mem – shin, also linked to Egyptian, Islamic, Aztek, Navajo, Hopi, Dogon and Nordic cosmogonies, and the buffalo maiden legend (63-5). The English word wisdom is derived from the German word wit which has its origins in the Latin vid, the root of words like video, and in turn, is traced back to the Sanskrit word veda, which means knowledge taught by beings other than men.
Biblical revelation was intended for all people but Hermetic revelation was secret except to select initiates; Ebeling suggests that “the principal narrative is not the Exodus, but the story of the primeval knowledge of all men, which was spread throughout the various cultures and was the common basis of many cultures and religions” (86). Even Moses is supposedly a student of Hermes Trismegistus. The knowledge passed from Egypt to the Greeks to the Arabs to the Germans. According to Von Franz, the Templars associated with Druses who were subject to the Order of the Elders and the secret tradition of the Imam (42, 165). Khalid ibn Yazid tells how Wise Men have partly concealed and partly revealed Geometry and the Secret Art of God, a mystery to scholars that is impossible for the ignorant (Linding 72).
The occult alchemist Paracelsus, the more familiar name of the Renaissance physician Theophrastrus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, also posited a common origin of the religions of the Chaldeans, Hebrews, Persians and Egyptians in The Aurora of the Philosophers (Linden 163-4). The controversial and argumentative botanist asserts that all of them had “the same knowledge of the secrets of nature and the same Religion, the names only being changed” (Linden 164). Later, the German Philosophical-Romantic Hermeticists interpreted history as a process of unfolding the unity between the ideal and the Real, and imagined Hermes as the father of discursive thought and symbolic-intuitive thought. Moreover, positing the origins of the alchemical tradition, they suggested that “in the beginning, there were only four books of Hermes; these were the four Vedas of the Indians” which multiplied with various orders of priests as the knowledge spread to Egypt (Ebeling 132). In India, alchemy was known as rasayana, the science of immortality, and like the Byzantium sophistry of Alexandria, Tantric practices sought the perfected man and eternal life as its end (Linden 7).
Marie-Louise Von Franz defines alchemy as Greek natural philosophy with Egyptian Secret Science, a practical craft tradition (80). She also suggests Greece idolized India and its naked and wise Brahmins (94). Von Franz also links alchemy to the tradition of the smith and medicine man: “Originally, the art of the smith at the forge and that of the alchemist were regarded as being the same and held the same tradition” (Von Franz 49). Amplifying the typology, the smith is often married to a weaver, who fosters an immature hero from chaotic animal potentiality to a mature persona and fulfillment of vocation and the burden of fate. The hero cannot fulfill his role without the initiation and nurturing of the smith.
In Libellus de Alchimia, Albertus Magnus, Master to Thomas Aquinas, counsels on various errors in the Hermetic art. In addition to faulty tools, impatience, cheaters, doubters and lacking resources (advising paupers that one must have enough for two years of costs and a special laboratory apart from others), he also cites failure to grasp the fundamentals. After Jesuit alchemy, the Renaissance produced such characters as Cornelius Agrippa, editor of most famous academic handbook of magic, and John Dee, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. They were followed by the Rosicrucians, a socio-political movement originating from a Lutheran pastor and Mason, and claiming a method for transformation of man into a compassionate, socially-aware individual committed to service for the common good. The Rosicrucian Manifesto is based on two documents. In Fama (1610), it is related that wisdom is an infinite and good treasure that provides more perfect knowledge of nature. The pride and greed of academics opposes the Librum Naturae. The Fraternity, for which no formal habits are required, agrees only to heal the sick out of love. In Confessio (1615), the Rosicrucians admit no wicked purpose against worldly government; members confess knowledge of Jesus Christ, and accept the Roman Empire. In the seventeenth century, Oxford, Harvard, and Yale were home to alchemists and magicians, and Hermetic virtuosi included Francis Bacon (father of the Scientific Method), Johannes Kepler (mathematician), John Locke (political philosopher), Issac Newton and Gottfried Leibnitz (inventors of calculus). In America, John Winthrop Jr, son of the Massachusetts Bay Company emigrant, had 275 Rosicrucian texts in his library.
Hermeticism has been interpreted in works like Shakespeare’s Tempest, Marlowe’s Faustus, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The Elizabethan love of occult magic and fantasy is given example as Prospero aided in his Hermetic work by elves, nymphs, fairy and mushrooms. His tools include a rod, book and invocations. He controls the elements, causes weather and astronomical anomalies, and opens graves. Another example of tools and ends is Faustus using lines, circles, signs, and letters for pranks on the Pope, conversations with the dead, and to make gold. John Milton sums up the Hermetic virtues in his poem “Il Penseroso.” He first scolds inappropriate happiness and false consciousness of vain deluding fancies and the folly gained hold of idle minds by gaudy toys and gross conforming stupidity. Milton first invokes, then transforms through literary rituals: he calls upon the God of Renunciation to transform the poet from a brute to a moral soul and mind, and he imagines escaping the crust of name and form by fasting, solitude, silence, and contemplation. The bells of the city are faint in the distant high-tower, where he is mystagogue and Lord of the Forest; instead of nymph is Nun, devout and demure. Away from the crowd and frivolity, in a holy land of courtly chivalry, most pleasing is the perfect song of the Nightingale. The blessings of mirth are Classical learning and arts; the gifts of Hell granted to Love is the immortal mind, the Platonic ideal; the tragedies and satire the only home of demons in a lived dream of the cloister. The music is devotional: “as I wake, sweet music breathe/Above, about, or underneath,/Sent by some spirit to mortal good,/Or th’ unseen Genius of the Wood’ (around Line 150). Far from the mirth of the city, born again by the Lamp of the midnight hour in study, the ecstasy and passion of divine union is man’s highest joy, and after many years of melancholy and discipline, the Prophetic strain brings all of Heav’n before the seer and gently lays him to rest.
Von Franz describes how Jung rescued the despised field of alchemical study when others had abandoned it as too difficult to read and requiring tremendously complex technical knowledge (13). The foundation of alchemy is the seven liberal arts and science: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In Anatomy of the Psyche, Edward Edinger describes the 7-step alchemical sequence as calcinatio (fire), solutio (water), coagulatio (earth), sublimatio (air), mortificatio (defeat and failure), separatio (order from chaos), and coniunctio (reconciliation and unity). The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkruetz presents the seven steps beginning with a Royal Wedding, the Journey to the Castle (with topos problems), Assembly and Rank in the Castle of Marvels, the Play within the Play, the Castle Vault, the Alchemy Lab, and finally, the Seashore. Indian Yoga describes seven chakras and their qualities and practices: the first chakra of food and the life of the body, the second of instincts and sexuality, the third of social life and the props of society, the fourth of duty and devotion, the fifth as the Song of Truth, the sixth of science and the Buddha potential, and the seventh as our soul in harmony with Spirit. The goal is the fulfillment of the human condition and illumination of the veil of Creation.
THE GRAIL QUEST
To find the Treasure Hard-to-Attain requires first a survey of the legend of the Grail and also special consideration of the object. From tracing the origins of the legend in medieval Europe to consideration of the three primary works by various authors in the literary tradition, it will be shown how a fairy tale was transformed through accretion and elaboration then gains socio-political and religious themes within a cosmos of connections and symbolic interrelations. The main character is Perceval, or Parsifal, whose heroic transformation suggests not only the psychological process of the immature ego’s first step toward Self, but also a cosmological constant: as above, so below. The kingdom in peril—devastated by war, crop losses and famine—can be renewed if the aging King finds an heir and passes on his property; the redemption of the kingdom is more important than the winning of the Grail, which may only be found by one who does not shed blood and may only be spoken of by a priest (Jung 271). The hidden relic is ripe to renew the kingdom, if the right questions are asked; after retelling the legend and comparing Perceval to the Fool of the Tarot, the focus will then turn to the Grail itself and the various objects and correlative legends of the Grail as a shining stone, found as widespread as India, Tibetan Buddhism, and esoteric Judeo-Christianity. This survey will offer tentative answers to the questions to ask of the Grail and clues to winning the enigmatic prize.
In Gemstone of Paradise, G. Ronald Murphy proposes the quest for the Grail must consider the object, what it is and whether it exists, and also the legend, an alchemical syncretism drawing from Celtic-Arthurian and medieval Islamic-Christian origins. The founding texts were produced in a creative and experimental fifty-year period, from around 1180 to 1230 CE. In the first half of the twelfth century, Arthurian legends were adapted by Geoffrey of Monmouth to create a national epic of the Anglo-Welsh-Norman-Breton kingdom, and the original Latin was translated into French couplets then into Middle English alliterative style. The legend of the Grail first appeared unfinished within the tradition, then gains an ending by later authors, then gains an epic frame.
Between 1160 and 1230 in France, Chrétien de Troyes added to the Arthurian legends with “Yvain,” “Knight of the Cart,” and “Perceval, le Conte du Graal.” These works emphasized courtly love and chivalry, and “Perceval, the Story of the Grail” was unfinished at the time of the author’s death. Robert de Boron shifted the social concern to a more explicitly religious and Christian context when he changed the Grail from a gem-encrusted platter to the chalice of the Last Supper brought to England by Joseph of Arimathie. Clerical authors between 1215-1230 link the Celtic and Christian traditions in L'Histoire del Saint Graal, where the Grail is identified as a dish or a bowl, and monks long-steeped in study of Augustine interpreted the quest for the Grail as a pilgrimage from the City of Man to the City of God. Wolfram von Eschenbach expanded the legend with a family backstory and emphasized both a political and theological concern within a larger cosmology of connections and influences; in Parzival, he adds an ending tied to astronomical correspondences and shows an ideal reconciliation of fighting Muslim and Christian brothers, a comic fantasy amidst the tragic fratricide of the Crusades. Chrétien de Troyes claimed to work from a fictitious Latin text, whereas Wolfram von Eschanbach claimed he was retelling an oral tradition originating from a character called “Kyot.”
The core of the legend is as follows: Perceval is a child of the Forest, kept ignorant of chivalry by his widowed mother. He mistakes an Arthurian knight for God, and against his mother’s pleading, he hurriedly vows to serve ladies and maidens then departs to King Arthur’s castle. When he meets the damsel called Lady Jeschute by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Perceval forces a kiss from her and takes the ring given by her lover. Perceval next meets the Red Knight, cousin of King Arthur who sends Perceval with a challenge to the throne. Perceval, upon arrival at court, demands to be knighted; the butler mock challenges him to the Red Knight’s armor. This displeases the King, and causes the Queen’s assistant to laugh for the first time in many years. The butler strikes her and the court jester, who prophesied she would not laugh until she sees the supreme lord of knights.
Meanwhile, Perceval slays the Red Knight with a javelin to the eye; he takes only the armor, and retains his own hemp tunic. He returns Arthur’s stolen cup, and the court jester is heartened. Perceval next meets a gentleman in white robes, who teaches him the ideals of chivalry: avoid gossip, keep quiet, console women, go to church, and do not admit you were taught by your mother. Perceval is suddenly concerned for his mother, who fainted when he left, and leaves to find her. Instead, he meets a damsel-in-distress whom he invites to sleep next to him. They spend the night kissing and cuddling, and in the morning, he adds to her comfort with a promise to bring peace to her land. Perceval battles the butler of the evil King, whom he sends to serve King Arthur’s niece who laughed, then defeats the evil King’s knights. The evil King’s plan to starve the land is disrupted by an unexpected arrival of wheat; he is defeated in combat with Perceval and sent to serve the maiden who laughed.
Perceval departs again in search of his mother, and after meeting clergy, is offered lodging by two fishermen anchored at an impassable river. Perceval accepts and meets the grey-haired Fisher King, who is unable to rise from bed to greet Perceval due to a hip injury. A procession brings Perceval a bleeding lance, and the room is suddenly illuminated when the grail is brought into the chamber. Perceval is quiet through a miraculous feast, and the next morning, the hall is deserted. He meets a maiden who scolds him for failing to ask why the lance bleeds, who the Grail serves and how it works. She also tells him his mother is dead, and the suffering and terror in the kingdom will increase due to his silence. Perceval defeats many more knights and the butler from Arthur’s court, and he resolves to find the Grail castle again and ask the right questions. After five years of searching, he meets his hermit Uncle Trevizent, who tells him the sorrow of his mother cursed and sabotaged his Grail quest.
Perceval is the foolish child of the forest who can accomplish great deeds despite being immature and idiotic. According to Wolfram von Eschenbach, finding the Grail—the gemstone of gemstones engraved with the names of all its guardians past and future—and becoming one of the Keepers of the Grail is a sociopolitical drama of loyalty and fidelity (Murphy 17). The Grail is an anima treasure, impossible to find without solving the twisted riddles that transform a naïve youth of anxiety and inhibition into a graceful Master (Neumann 206, 212). In the legend, the brash boy flees his treacherous mother as a passionate and idealistic knight errant, yet he never truly separates from the matriarchy to a mature and sovereign masculinity. According to Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, the theme of the legend is the integration of autonomous and unconscious emotional instincts and unresolved problems of sexuality. For them, the Grail is an alchemical symbol, which they suggest as either a meteorite, a table of emerald with amethyst legs, or a stone with a soul. They interpret Perceval as at first nothing more than a crude and covetous son who is unfairly expected by his mother to achieve what his father did not fulfill, and only later the lone knight who can win the Grail and renew the kingdom.
Perceval’s theme can be compared to that of the Fool in the Tarot. The Hermetic Fool is more than a simple buffoon, beyond the bounds of convention and a comic façade of a tortured conscience. His is neither the privileged folly of the jester nor the irreverence, ridicule and absurdity of the clown. Instead, he is a culture hero representing a complete cycle from no autonomous power to mastery through surrender; the dependent boy becomes a sovereign and self-sufficient man. The Fool’s small pouch indicates renunciation of all but the necessities of travel. The detachment from the world is also evident from the Fool’s walking along the cliff; here is a sign of the Fool’s total trust. He also carries a white rose, a token of honor. He is accompanied by a small dog, representing the instinctual Earthly life and acting as a loyal threshold guardian of the nekyia, the Otherworld transmigration of souls typically led by a psychopomp. The Fool’s green tunic, similar to the robes of medieval physicians and devotees of Hermes, is covered in a fancy pattern aligning him to the sun, and he wears a heart on his sleeve. The crown of laurel is an emblem of immortality and hidden knowledge of astronomy, plants, mathematics, music, rhetoric, cosmology and the liberal virtues of friendship, generosity, compassion, courtesy, and pure intellect that privileges erotic love as a noble passion.
Perceval’s anima initiation and encounter with the damsel-in-distress reveals the Grail. Each of the primary texts in the Perceval legend offers a different object as the Grail: a serving platter for salmon, a ruby or emerald chalice, a glowing stone, and more recently in popular mass market fiction, a French dynasty linked to Mary Magdalene and Christ. Eschenbach’s claim that the Grail is a stone has bewildered scholars (Loomis 28), but Murphy suggests the clues given in the text point to the Bamberg Paradise altarpiece, housed at the Tomb of Clement the II. This vessel for relics features the twelve apostles on the side, and on the top, shows a map of the Ganges (representing contemplation), the Nile (for strength), the Tigris (for compassion) and the Euphrates (for justice) with the Four Trees of the Garden of Paradise and the treasures of gold, ruby, diamond and emerald, all gifts from God who sits on a sapphire throne in Heaven. His argument, while provocative, especially in locating a relic mapping four trees in the Garden of Paradise, is not convincing, as Eschenbach explicitly calls the grail the lapis exilis, a thin stone that shines; instead, it is more worthwhile to consider the altarpiece as a clue to the origins of the Grail as a gemstone from Paradise and trace the relevant connections in a cross-cultural mineralogy.
The Hermetic tradition has long regarded some stones as possessing special qualities for healing and transformation. For example, diamonds promote incorruptible truth, aid in fasting, banish anger and evildoers. Emerald enhances sight and restores memory. Sapphire encourages virtue and peace. Ruby banishes sorrow, restrains lust and gives resistance to poison. Gold is “mineral light” and extends life. Moreover, the Hermetic tradition regards some stones as being gifts from Heaven, both literal meteorites in some instances and also marvelous stones entrusted to neutral angels disguised as fairy creatures who left the Grail on Earth with the Knights Templar (Loomis 208, van der Sluijs 42). Emma Jung suggests that the Lapis Exilis of Wolfram von Eschanbach is Alexander the Great’s Stone of Paradise, originally from Jewish sources and known as the Tzohar (213).
When Adam and Eve were exiled from Paradise, they were given a gift from the angel Raziel: a stone glowing with the Light of the first day. The treasure passed from Adam to Seth to Enoch who became Metatron to Methuselah to Lamech and then to Noah, who hung it on the Ark to light the ship in darkness and then when he was drunk, lost it in an underwater cave. Many years later, Nimrod is warned that his kingdom will be usurped, so the king orders all the males born that year to be killed. Abraham’s mother hides her newborn in the cave, and the boy is nursed to maturity in 13 days by the angel Gabriel, who also gives him the recovered Stone of Destiny. When Abraham’s mother returns to him, she doesn’t recognize him. Later, Abraham and his son Ishmael build the Ka’aba of Mecca (“the House of God in the City”), with a black cornerstone speculated to be a meteorite that was originally white. There may have been another red stone. This site housed various icons until Mohammed removed them.
With his mother’s favor and initiative, Jacob steals his older brother’s inheritance from their blind father Isaac in a deathbed deception and then he escapes with his mother’s help to live with his Uncle. In the separation, Jacob is wearing the marvelous gem when he dreams of a ziggurat or a ladder to Heaven and a blessing from God at an ancient site of initiation called Beer-sheeba, also Luz or Bethel. When he awakens, he is fearful and awestruck at being at the gate of Paradise. He anoints the rock he used as a pillow and bargains with it for practical favors. His Uncle then tricks him into marrying his cousin and volunteering 14 years of labor. The Uncle learns through an oracle that he is only blessed because Jacob is blessed. Meanwhile, Jacob fathers twelve sons and a daughter among four wives then uses magic in a trade competition with his Uncle, exploiting rods carved from poplar, almond and sycamore trees to produce marvelous striped sheep. The two dispute an amassed fortune, which the wives take for their children.
Then, as they flee from the envy of the Uncle’s sons, Jacob’s wife Rachel steals her Father’s anthropomorphic icons, the household deities. The Uncle pursues with an army, and as he approaches, he dreams of a warning from God not to harm Jacob. He adopts a diplomatic attitude, and Jacob allows him to search for the missing icons. Rachel hides them under her seat and claims she cannot move while she is menstruating. The Uncle does not find the icons and a truce is established. The Tzohar later passes to Joseph, who could interpret dreams and predict the future when he put it in a chalice. He was entombed with both objects, later stolen from the grave by Moses. The Tzohar is described as an egg-shaped pearl lost in Babylonian exile or perhaps swallowed by a whale.
Moses is also linked to other glowing stones. The Hermetic tradition recalls the first set of tablets given by God to Moses as carved from the corner of His sapphire throne and inscribed with text of black fire. In a fit of anger at his people, Moses shattered the original Decalogue then laboriously carved another set in rough rock. A canopy above God’s throne may have been the source for an earlier set of tablets, the Tabula Smaragdina, or the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus. Emerald is also the stone that the archangel Michael struck from Lucifer’s crown. Sapphire and emeralds feature prominently in descriptions of the Urim and Thummim, a divination tool used by priests that has been described as dice, two emeralds and light blue diamonds. When questioned, the stones would light up an answer. The Urim and Thummim, the motto of Yale University meaning light and truth, Lux et Veritas, is also linked to an ancient breastplate of twelve stones with one shining on the shoulder strap.
A parallel idea to the Urim and Thummim is found in India and among Tibetan Buddhists. The wish-fulfilling stone is called ratna and maniva, the fiery stone of miracles guarded by a snake. Inscribed with AUM Mane Padme Hum, “the jewel of the lotus”, the cintimani fell from the sky. It is lapis lazuli, a blue stone like those of Afghanistan and Siberia, and one object among a collection. Like Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Grail, which fulfills wishes of unlimited food and eternal life, the stone of the East glows, creates wealth, banishes evil, purifies water, controls the climate and the weather, flashes colors to heal sickness and cure blindness, and it gives unnaturally long life. This seems like the eight powers that can be gained through esoteric Indian Yoga objectified and made concrete: the power to shrink or become invisible, radical expansion, the power to walk on water and air, the power to becoming immovably heavy, knowledge of others’ thoughts and events past and future, infinite enjoyment at will, perfect mastery even over death, and the power to bewitch. No doubt the similarity is what inspired Manly P. Hall to suggest the bleeding spear of the Grail procession is a symbolic correlative of the sushumna column topped by the pineal gland, and the glowing stone itself is lit by the Platonic ideal of Light, known also as nirguna brahman in Sanskrit or Ein Sof in Hebrew.
Louis Buff Parry links the cornerstone of the Master Apartments, a tower in New York City originally designed in the 1920s to include a rooftop stupa, a shrine of Buddhist relics, to the activities of Jesuits and the Grail. He claims a secretive society smuggled Jacob’s pillowstone, the anthropomorphic icons stolen by Rachel, or some other Grail correlative out of France and England and into Canada in the 1740s. A related enigmatic vessel of interest to the modern Jesuits was supposedly hidden in the cornerstone of the Master Apartments. The building featured a museum dedicated to the work of Nicholas Roerich, a Russian mystic, artist and public figure associated with Annie Besant’s Theosophical Society. The building’s Masonic superintendent, whose last meeting was with officers of the Jesuit order, was murdered in the basement near the black stone supposedly housing the Grail.
Thus ends the survey of the legend of the Grail, including both a consideration of the legend itself and various contenders for the object. The quest fulfills the spiritual function of transformation, a cosmological function of linking microcosm and macrocosm, a psychological function in the heroic task of individuation, and a sociopolitical function in outlining ideals of civil life and courtly love. After explicating the character of the quest hero, we reviewed the possibilities for the Grail (with special attention to what it does and how it works) as an actual object within various religious traditions.
The common definition of a Grail object is the treasure hard-to-attain, seemingly non-existent, until the rare seeker finds it against impossible odds. Is there such a miraculous stone as the Tzohar? Perhaps it is merely the fanciful tale of the literate elite, whose mystical interpretations of the Bible are called the Zohar. Or, perhaps the Gemstone of Paradise does exist in a hidden vault in an obscure but symbolically-rich location. Perhaps it is only a vivid allegory for a material form with a divine origin. The Grail seeker may not find a shining pearl, but within the cave of his chest beats rhythmically the life of Spirit: we are born human creatures but evolve as souls. The treasure we seek is not always the treasure we find, and the treasure we find is not necessarily the treasure we were seeking. In a work-a-day world lacking imagination, it is a great accomplishment to grow a soul, to know the definitive answer to the difficult questions “Who am I? Where am I? When am I?” Then, by careful word, thought, and action, it is possible to fulfill essential duty without burden and without seeking praise and approval. Then, it is possible to experience unity, peace, and freedom as a soul-at-play in the Big Dream of the undivided, unchanging, infinite Spirit. This is the goal of the alchemist’s work; this is the end desired by the Hermeticist; this is the victorious attainment of the Philosopher’s Stone.
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