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  Vortigern Studies > Faces of Arthur > Arthurian Articles > August Hunt (7)

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August HuntVisit August Hunt's website: The Quest for Arthur's Grave

August Hunt, (1960), published his first short stories in his high school newspaper, THE WILDCAT WIRES. These were followed by stories and poems in THE PHOENIX literary magazine of Clark Community College, where he received a writing scholarship. Transferring to THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE in Olympia, WA, he continued to publish pieces in local publications and was awarded the Edith K. Draham literary prize. A few years after graduating in 1985 with a degree in Celtic and Germanic Studies, he published "The Road of the Sun: Travels of the Zodiac Twins in Near Eastern and European Myth". Magazine contributions include a cover article on the ancient Sinaguan culture of the American Southwest for Arizona Highways. His first novel, "Doomstone", and the anthology "From Within the Mist" are being offered by Double Dragon (ebook and paperback). August, a member of the International Arthurian Society, North American Branch, has most recently had his book "Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur" accepted for publication by Hayloft Publishing. Now being written are "The Cloak of Caswallon", the first in a series of Arthurian novels that will go under the general heading of "The Thirteen Treasures of Britain", and a work of Celtic Reconstructionism called "The Secrets of Avalon: A Dialogue with Merlin". 

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The Magic of the Cauldron

August Hunt

The quest for Arthur’s Holy Grail properly begins with the cauldron of the Irish king Odgar son of Aodh and his steward Diwrnach. This cauldron, which in the Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwn belonged to the Chief the Underworld, was stolen from Odgar by Arthur and his men in the early Welsh Mabinogion tale, "Culhwch and Olwen."

Odgar’s cauldron is taken to the house of Llwydeu son of Cil Coed at Porth Cerddin in Dyfed. Llwydeu is the magician Llwyd son of Cil Coed, the owner of an Otherworld basin in "Manwydan Son of Llyr". Pryderi and his mother Rhiannon become stuck fast to this basin, which resides in a typical fairy-mound castle.

There is good reason for identifying Rhiannon, "the Great or Divine Queen", with the Roman period horse goddess Epona Regina. Epona's "basin" was actually a patera. In her iconography, she is shown feeding foals from such a container.  That Pryderi/Gwri Gwallt Euren was her foal is amply demonstrated by his birth, when he is magically substituted for a newly born stallion. 

Rhiannon has a suitor called Gwawl son of Clud, that is, Wall of Antonius near the Clyde River, which we now call the Antonine Wall.  This is doubtless because Epona was worshipped on the Antonine Wall, as is attested by a dedication left to her at the Auchendavy Roman fort. 

Epona Regina or Rhiannon was also identified with the Irish goddess Cliodhna.  Both Cliodhna and Rhiannon possessed three magical birds.  The singing of these birds could heal the sick and they perched upon the Otherworld apple tree.  As the same three birds sing over Bran's or "Raven's" solar head, they are most certainly oracular ravens.  Rhiannon's consort was Manawydan son of Lir because the Irish Cliodhna belonged to Manannan's kingdom.

The importance of the "Culhwch and Olwen" story for the evolution of the Grail legend is obvious, but what has often been overlooked is that it most certainly predates the later French romances that drew upon the story of Bran's cauldron (see below). In the "Culhwch and Olwen" episode we have what some have claimed is a rationalization of the Spoils of Annwm poem. This poem is indisputably ancient and concerns a raid on the Otherworld by Arthur and his men. The object of their raid is a cauldron warmed by the breath of nine maidens.

In this poem, the Otherworld is given several names:

Caer Siddi, "The Fort of the (Fairy) Seat"  (a fairy hill like the Irish sidhe)

Caer Pedryfan, "The Four-Cornered Fort"  (a Neolithic cist tomb?)

Caer Feddwid, "Fort of Revelry" (literally  "of Drunkenness")

Caer Rigor, "Fort of Kings" (or, if rigor is Latin, the "Fort of Stiffness/Numbness Due to Cold")

Caer Wydr, "Fort of Glass" (later identified with Glastonbury)

Caer Goludd, "Fort of Riches" (or "Fortress of Light"?; see also Nikolai Tolstoy’s identification of this fort with Bede’s urbs Coludi, the Coludesburh at St. Abb’s Head)

Caer Fandwy, "The Peaked Fort"  (cf. Bannatia, the Roman fort at Dalginross, Perthshire)

Caer Ochren,  "Fort of the Sides" (but see both the woman named Achren in the “Battle of Goddeu” story and the Roman period name for Lizard Point in Cornwall, 'Ocrinum Promontorium'; Greek okrin is "a jagged point or prominence")

Three shiploads of Prydwen went with Arthur to the Otherworld, and only seven individuals returned.  These seven are, of course, symbolic of the seven planets that regularly descend into the Underworld and then rise from it again.

When Geoffrey of Monmouth (in his Life of Merlin) populated Avalon, he placed there nine goddesses, reflective both of the nine maidens who warm the cauldron in The Spoils of Annwm and of the nine virgin priestesses who inhabited the Ile de Sein off the coast of Brittany, according to the 1st century geographer Pomponius Mela. The Ile de Sein priestesses could cure the sick, foretell the future, control the weather and assume animal disguises.

I have elsewhere written about Glastonbury’s misidentification with Arthur’s Avalon. As mentioned above, Glastonbury was, through false etymology, thought to be the Caer Wydr or Glass Fort of The Spoils of Annwn. The true Avalon is the Aballava/Avallana Roman fort at Burgh-By-Sands in Cumbria, not far west of the Camboglanna/Camlann Roman fort at Castlesteads, the scene of Arthur’s last fatal battle. While the Spoils of Annwn underworld is not localized, its association with Avalon may not be coincidental.

Cauldrons like those of Gundestrup, Duchcov, Llyn Cerrig Bach and Llyn Fawr were used as deposits in sacred lakes and bogs. Lakes, like caves and chambered tombs, were considered entrances to the Underworld. If an actual cauldron were ever present at the true Arthurian Avalon, i.e. Burgh-By-Sands, it would most certainly have been deposited in Burgh Marsh, the once extensive “moss” that surrounded the Avalon fort. However, in my article on Arthur's battles, I have shown that the actual lake of the Lady of the Lake would appear to be the one at Lochmaben in Dumfries, just a few miles NNW of Aballava. 

The proper identification of Odgar and Diwrnach (variants Dyrnwch, Dyrnfwch, Drynog, Tyrnog) is of importance, therefore, only in that it would help us gain understanding of this particular cauldron.  There is no reason to give the cauldron of the Culhwch and Olwen story precedence over the one found in The Spoils of Annwn.

Odgar, given that his father is said to be Aodh, i.e Aedh, "Fire", looks to be the Leinster king Aedh Cerr son of Colman son of Cairbre who died c. 591. Diwrnach, as has been surmised before, it a Welsh form of the Irish name Tigernach. As Aedh Cerr is recorded as a king of Leinster and Kildare in Leinster had a 6th century bishop named St. Tigernach, it is probably this saint who is intended as the cauldron-keeper.

Dr. Betty O'Brien has kindly furnished me with the following information regarding Aedh Cerr:

"AED CERR: Cerr means (according to the Dict. of Old Irish) crooked, wry, maimed or crippled. At CGH 144 f 56: Aedh Cerr m. Meilgi m. Ennae Boguine m Conaill Gulban  (of the Cenel Boguine). The Cenel Boguine were based in s/w Donegal and were part of the Cenel Conaill (northern ui Neill). 144 g 1: 9 sons of Meilgi = Brandub, Aed Cerr etc.

However, according to the Leinster king-lists contained in Thomas Charles-Edwards's 'Early Christian Ireland', Aed Cerr m. Colmain of the Leinster dynasty the Ui Mail, died in 595 AD. Also listed is his son Crimthann Cualann mac Aeda Cirr of the Ui Mail, who is described as rex Lagenorum, and who died in 628 AD."

Given that Cerr as an epithet means "maimed" or "crippled", then Aedh Cerr would be, like the Welsh Bran/Brons, yet another Maimed King of the prototypical Grail.

St. Tigernach (died c. 550) is also said to have been bishop of Clones and Clogher in Tyrone.

We have seen that in the Arthur story the cauldron of Diwrnach/Dyrnog/Tigernach is taken to Dyfed, where it is left at the house of Llwydeu son of Cil Coed. Once again, it has long been recognized that this Llwydeu is the Llwyd son of Cil Coed of the Mabinogion tale "Manawydan Son of Llyr". Llwyd owns a magical golden basin in a typical Otherworld fairy mound castle (sidh).  Llwyd has been linked to Ludchurch, Welsh Eglwys Llwyd, hard by the stream of Cil Coed in Pembroke. But the Porth Cerddin, "Port of the Rowan", where Arthur disembarks with the cauldron, has not been found in any of the extant local place-names in this part of Dyfed. Supposedly, the Mesur-y-pair or "Measure of the Cauldron," is to be found at Porth Cerddin.

Llwyd's Ludchurch is on the stream of Kilcoed, i.e. Cilcoed, and the Porth Cerddin or "Port of the Rowan" may refer to where this stream empties into the sea at Amroth on the western shore of Carmarthen Bay. Coed is the Welsh word for "wood", and this particular coed could well have been a rowan wood.

This Otherworld castle of Llwyd of Cil Coed is probably the ancient fort that stands atop the hill overlooking Ludchurch.

The notion that Llwyd may be a Welsh version of the Irish hero Liath son of Celtchair, whose name is preserved in the famous fairy hill in County Longford called Bri Liath, is certainly significant.   Bri Leith was for a time the home of the goddess Etaine Echraide, that is, Etain "Horse-rider”. Midir (*Medio-rix, “King of the Middle”, i.e. of Midhe; see J. Uhlich “Einige britannische Lehnnamen im Irischen: Brenainn, Cathair/Cathaer und Midir”, Zeitschrift fur Celtische Philologie, 49-50, 1997, 894), the god who owned Bri Liath, possessed a magical cauldron, which was stolen from him by Cu Roi.  The fortified hill at Ludchurch may well have been thought of as the Welsh counterpart of Bri Liath in Ireland and, hence, became the respository of the horse goddess’s patera.

It is true that Bri Leith is not in the Leinster of Aedh Cerr, nor is it anywhere near Tigernach’s Kildare, Clones or Clogher. However, the author of Culhwch and Olwen probably utilized these two Irish figures solely because they were roughly contemporary with Arthur. 

It seems appropriate that Arthur, probably a cavalryman, should be portrayed as making off with a magical cauldron that can be linked to Etain the horse-goddess. And, indeed, Daphne Brooks (in her "Saints and Goddesses: The Interface with Celtic Paganism", Seventh Whithorn Lecture, published by Friends of the Whithorn Trust 1999) has very plausibly suggested that the St. Medan of Galloway who is paired with St. Madrun (a Christianized version of the pagan mother goddess Matrona, the Modron of Welsh myth) is none other than Mo-Etain, a Scottish manifestation of Etain Echraide of Ireland.

Of course, it must be remembered that the Culhwch and Olwen tale essentially identifies the cauldron brought from Ireland with the patera of Rhiannon/Epona Regina in Dyfed.  And it was Epona who was worshipped by Roman cavalrymen

A patera was a shallow dish used to offer food or drink to the gods and goddesses in Roman times.  Often the patera is shown over an altar and it is known that libations could be poured from a patera onto an altar. 

The Christian transformation of the cauldron/patera into the Grail (from medieval Latin gradale, a serving platter or dish, at first holding either Christ as a fish or Christ as a Mass wafer, i.e. the body of Christ), then into the cup that held Christ’s blood (the prototypical chalice of the Mass service, something made plain in the Perlesvaus, which has Arthur introduce the chalice into the Mass after observing the Grail) and finally into a stone  (Wolfram von Eschenbach’s lapsit exillis, which draws its power from a Mass-wafer brought down from heaven each year on Good Friday and placed on the stone by the Holy Spirit in the guise of a dove).

Robert de Boron, the first writer of a Grail romance, properly hints that the Christian Grail, a substitute for the patera of Epona, was conveyed to the “vales of Avaron”, i.e. Avalon.  But the Grail romances soon altered this story, having the precious object housed instead in the Castle of Corbenic.  From Corbenic the Grail is returned to the Holy Land, where it ascends into heaven and is never seen again by mortal men.  Even earlier versions of the story, like that of the Manessier Continuation of Chretien’s Conte Du Graal, inform us that the Grail was taken up to heaven.  Yet modern-day questors continue to look for the Grail.

Of Corbenic itself, I am in total agreement that this word derives from the French word for “raven”.  Long ago it was suggested that Castell Dinas Bran in northern Wales might be meant, this place being associated by the romance writers with the pagan Bran of cauldron fame (see below).  I am now able to prove by analysis of place-names found in the romances that Corbenic is, in fact, Dinas Bran.

Corbenic is in Listenois or Listinois, which itself is either in or the same as La Terre Foraine, the "Land Beyond".  In the Land Beyond is a city called "Malta". Corbenic has a church of "Notre Dame", i.e. of St. Mary.

"Malta" was the clue to unraveling this mystery. This is Mold in Flintshire, Wales. As Corbenic is founded for Alan son of Bron or Brons (= the Welsh Bran), it is surely not a coincidence that Mold is encircled on three sides by the Afon Alun or Alyn (from Celtic *alauna). Le Terre Foraine or the "Land Beyond" is this part of Wales to the west of the March of Wales, or Marchia Wallia, as it was called. For most of the period when the March of Wales (the boundary between England and Wales) existed, the fringe of Flintshire was "beyond" it to the west, in Pura Wallia. Listinois is a slightly corrupt form of the Welsh Dinas, preceded by the Old French definite article. Hence the "isle of Listinois" (isle being, as is often the case, "valley" in the medieval sense) of the valley of the dinas. The dinas or "fort" in question is, of course, Dinas Bran, also called Castell Dinas Bran. Corbenic, then, is indeed derived from Old French corbin, "raven", a substitute for the Welsh bran, "raven".

Notre Dame or "Our Lady" Mary is a reference to Valle Crucis Abbey hard by Castell Dinas Bran. In 1200 Madog ap Gruffydd, Lord of Powys Fadog, established Valle Crucis Abbey. It was this same Madog or his son Gruffydd Maelor II who built the medieval castle of Dinas Bran. According to G. Vernon Price, 'Originally the Church at Chirk was regarded as a chapel attached to the Llangollen Church. The benefice was recognised as under the control of the abbey by Bishop Anian II when he visited Oswestry in 1275.' In the Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291 the Church at Chirk is reported as Eglwys y waen ("Church of the Moor") and with the appropriation of the Church by Valle Crucis Abbey it was re-dedicated to St. Mary.

The Fisher King himself, the object of Perceval's quest, has remained an enigmatic figure, although some (see Roger Sherman Loomis) have identified this figure with the Celtic god Bran, the Bron/s (Christianized form, Hebron) of later Grail romance. Such an identification makes a great deal of sense, given the presence of the decapitated head in Peredur son of Efrawg's grail procession and the god's laming in Branwen daughter of Llyr - or emasculation, if the Morddwyd Tyllion/"Pierced Thigh" is, as seems probable, a designation for Bran. Chretien's Fisher King had been, after all, "struck by a javelin through both thighs" during the course of a battle.  Finally, we will see that a magical cauldron plays a major role in Bran's story.

Unfortunately, no source presents Bran as a fisherman. How, then, do we account for Chretien's Fisher King? I thought at first Roi Pescheur was a French attempt at King Pisear, an owner of a lightning-spear later given to the god Lugh in the Irish story  The Fate of the Children of Tuirenn. Pisear, however, lacks the qualities assigned to the Fisher King, especially the sacred laming. It is possible that Chretien or his source took the name Bran to be the Welsh word brenin, "king", equivalent to OFr. roi. Bran's title Bendigeid, "Blessed, Holy", may have been given an opposite meaning at some point by substituting Old French pecheur, "sinner". Pecheur itself would later have been replaced - perhaps as a pun - by the very similar OFr. pescheur,"fisherman". Bendigeid Vran/Bran thus became "Roi Pescheur".

  • Bendigeid ("blessed") Bran
  • Pecheur ("sinner") Brenin > Roi
  • Pescheur ("fisherman") Roi

Other famous cauldrons are spoken of in Welsh tradition.  The first is that belonging  to Ceridwen.  It was this cauldron from which Taliesin stole the gift of prophecy, poetry and transformation.  Modern scholars claim that Ceridwen is from two Old Welsh words meaning "Bent or Crooked Woman”.

The Irish goddess Cliodhna, in addition to her two sacred rocks (one near Ross Carbery and the other near Mallow), had a palace on Lough Derg, the lake of the god Eochaid ("Horse-rider") of the Red Eye, i.e. of the sun.  Tadg ("Poet") son of Cian visited the goddess at her palace and was given the three birds and an emerald cup.  She told Tadg that the birds would guide him home and keep him from sadness, while the cup would turn water into wine.  If he parted from the cup, he would die and she would bury him.  His soul would then come to reside at her palace by the apple tree.

The husband of Ceridwen the “Crooked Woman”, who gave his name to a lake, was Tegid, a Welsh form of the name Tacitus.  Tegid is, of course, actually Tadg, and vice-versa.  It would seem, then, that Ceridwen is merely an epithet for Cliodhna. Ceridwen's son, Morfran, wrongly rendered cormorant in modern Welsh, is the "Great Raven", i.e. one of Cliodhna's and Rhiannon's birds. 

The last cauldron of Irish myth belonged to Bran the Blessed.  He had obtained it from the King of Ireland, who himself had come into possession of it through a personage known as Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid.  Llassar had brought the cauldron of rebirth from out of the Lake of the Cauldron (Welsh "pair", Irish "coire").

Llassar is the same as the Irish name Laisre, a diminutive of Laisren.  St. Laisren, called Mo-Laise (a term of endearment which accounts for the Llaes of Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid's name), was of the 6th century.  He succeeded St. Gobban as abbot of Leighlin.  Gobban or "Smith", in turn, is a Christianized version of the smith god Goibhniu.  His name is preserved in the Gyfnewid epithet applied to Llassar/Laisren. 

The Saints Laisren or Mo-Laise and Gobban were in County Carlow, Old Irish Ceatherloch or "Quadruple Lake".  As the -th- of Ceatherloch was not pronounced, the Welsh may have wrongly interpreted Carlow as being Coireloch, i.e. the Lake of the Cauldron. 

The Irish king had tried to kill Llassar in a fiery house of iron, and this story derives from the Irish tale The Destruction of Dind Rig.  Dind Rig is an ancient citadel on the west bank of the Barrow River near St. Laisren's Leighlin, County Carlow. 

The real cauldron of Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid was, of course, the cauldron of the smith god Goibhniu.  This cauldron was used during the Otherworld Fled Goibnend or Feast of Goibhniu, an event which gave the gods eternal life.

The French romancers borrowed the story of Bran’s cauldron (Brons the ‘Fisher King’ or “Maimed King’) and linked it improperly to Arthur. As we have seen, Arthur’s cauldron did not have anything to do with the one found in the Mabinogion story of  Branwen Daughter of Llyr.


The land or city of Sarras "on the confines of Egypt", the last resting place of the Grail, would seem to be the Biblical land of Seir. We could make a case for this by examining the name of a king of Sarras, Evelake or Mordrain. Evelake/Mordrain, as has been surmised before, is the Welsh Avallach/Aballac, father of the goddess Modron. His name is found spelled Amalech in the Nennius genealogies, where he is a son of Beli Mawr. A form like Amalech was, in turn, related to the Biblical Amalek, eponymous founder of the Amalekites:

Here are the descendents of Esau, the father of Edom, in the mountainous region of Seir... Eliphaz... The sons of Eliphaz were... Amalek. GENESIS 36:9-12

Here are the chiefs of the sons of Esau... the sons of Eliphaz... chief Amalek.GENESIS 36:15-16

However, the name of the king of Sarras in the time of Galahad is significant and may point in another direction for this final earthly resting place of the Grail. He is called (Es)corant or (Es)corante. This is very similar to that of the 6th century St. Corentin (called Corenti in a medieval document which refers to the church of Cury near Helston in Cornwall). Corentin was of Plomodiern, 30 km NNE of Quimper. He later became the first bishop of Quimper, at that time called Cornugallia, i.e. Cornouaille.

St. Gildas, in one of his two Lives, is said to have established a monastery at Rhuys in Cornouaille. He died at Rhuys and was buried there, while the other Life has him dying and being buried at Glastonbury. It is surely not a coincidence that Rhuys is in the parish of Sarzeau. Indeed, Gildas’s monastery of Rhuys is on the tip of the Sarzeau peninsula. In my opinion, "Sarras" is an error or substitution for this very Sarzeau, with its "king" being Saint Corentin, the first bishop of Cornouaille.

Corentin himself may have been associated with the Grail because of the miraculous fish he sustained himself with at his well in the forest of Nevet (Nevet = Nemet; cf. Nemetona above, i.e. "holy grove"). He would eat of this fish every day, and the next day it would be alive again. This motif if very similar to what we find in some accounts of the Fisher King.

If I am right, then the final resting place of the Grail – assuming it is a physical object that did not ascend into heaven with Galahad’s soul, as the literary tradition insists, and assuming it was not subsequently relocated with Gildas’s relics to Berry – is to be found at Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys in Sarzeau.

Gildas himself, however, was quite possibly confused with a Breton saint named Gueltas.  There are those who hold that the true founder of the religious establishment at Rhuys was, therefore, not Gildas, but Gueltas.I once thought Gildas/Gueltas was the prototype for the Arthurian Galahad or Galaad, but I now realize this is wrong.

In later Arthurian romance, Perceval the Achiever of the Holy Grail is replaced as by Galahad or Galaad, the son of Lancelot by Elaine, daughter of Pelles (= Beli) of Corbenic/Castell Dinas Bran.  Elaine is here for the Alyn River, which is from the Celtic *alauna, “shining”.  The Alyn is a tributary of the Dee, which the hill of Dinas Bran overlooks.  Welsh tradition records that a Beli son of Benlli the Giant was slain and buried at Y Maes Mawr, ‘The Great Plain’.  This plain is between Ial and Ystrad (‘Strath’ or Valley) Alun, near the hill-fort of Moel Benlli.  Such a location places it not far to the north of Dinas Bran.  While the Mabinogion hero Gwalhafad son of Gwyar, brother of Gwalchmai, of whom nothing is known, has been proposed as the prototype for Galahad, the Vulgate’s claim that Lancelot’s birth-name was Galahad suggests a different derivation.   According to this source, Lancelot is named ‘du Lac’ or ‘of the Lake’
 because he was brought up by the Lady of the Lake.  As we have seen, this ‘Lac’ is for Llwch, the Welsh spelling of Irish Lugh.  But his baptismal name was Galahad in honor of the younger son of Joseph of Arimathea and the first Christian king of Wales. 

This Galahad, King of Wales, is a memory of Nennius’s Embreis Guletic, whom Vortigern makes the lord of “all the kingdoms of the western part of Britain”, i.e. of Gwynedd, but a description easily taken as meaning Wales.  Guletic or ‘Ruler’ is the Latinized form of Welsh gwledig, ‘lord, king, prince, ruler’, from gwlad, ‘country, fatherland, land, province, district, region; kingdom, realm, domain’. 

The Vulgate says that Lancelot opens the tomb of Galahad son of Joseph and that monks take the body to Wales.  They had foreseen his opening of the tomb in a vision.  This is a reference to the fact that Geoffrey of Monmouth has Ambrosius (= Welsh Emrys or ‘Embreis’) buried at Stonehenge next to Amesbury, but also follows Nennius in placing him at Dinas Emrys in Gwynedd, where the dragons are dug up.  The Emrys of Gwynedd was the god Lleu, so Lancelot was Emrys Gwledig or ‘Galaad’. 

A great deal of mystery has surrounded the nature of the Christian object called the Holy Grail. The authors of the various Grail romances doubtless intended to convey such mystery and they have, to a remarkable extent, been successful. Today theories range from the Grail being a Christianized version of an ancient Celtic cauldron of plenty, a medieval relic, an archetype, a symbol of the ecstatic vision of God.  New Age and neopagan tendancies are further blurring whatever meaning the Grail may once have had. This kind of blurring is made that much easier by the fact that the Grail authors often employed different symbols and different contexts for their Grails.

Is there any way to make the Grail a little less slippery for modern questors? I believe so. What follows is a brief comparative analysis of the so-called "procession scenes" found in the Grail romances. I have tried to avoid allowing mystical or religious feeling from interfering with what aims to be a straight-forward, logical attempt to interpret the nature of Grail symbology. I am here concerned neither with the theological nor psychological applications of the Grail. Yet at the same time I have tried to remain true to what the objects themselves may have represented to a people who were pre-scientific in their outlook.

A. Chretien's Procession

  • white lance dripping blood
  • candelabra
  • grail made of gold
  • silver carving platter

The white lance dripping blood is, as is evidenced by similar weapons in Celtic mythology, a typical lightning-weapon. While I can in no way prove it, I suspect the blood symbolizes rays of sunlight (see below under the discussion of Manessier's Continuation), which "bleed" from the sun. The flames of the candles on the candelabra represent the stars. The golden grail is the sun. The silver carving dish is the moon. Chretien tells us that the grail so brightly illumined the hall

"that the candles lost their brilliance like stars and the moon when the sun rises." In other words, he tells us in no uncertain terms that three of the objects present - the candles, the grail and the carving dish- represent the stars, sun and moon, respectively. Gold is known to be the color and metal of the sun, while silver is sacred to the moon.

We have seen that the word grail, or rather, graal, is well attested in the medieval period, being applied to a serving dish or platter. The Fisher King's Grail contains a single Holy Wafer (= the body of Christ) and this wafer alone sustains the Fisher King. Chretien may be punning when he says that the Grail does not hold a pike, salmon or lamprey: Christ's symbol was the fish, and since Christ's body is contained in the Grail, in essence there is a fish there after all.  It is a solar fish on a lunar platter. 

B. Peredur Son of Efrawg

  • huge spear dripping blood
  • platter bearing a bloody head

The spear is the same lightning-spear of Chretien's account, the platter the lunar vessel and the bloody head a distinctly Welsh substitute for the solar grail. The Welsh author was probably thinking of the god Bran's head, also a solar symbol. Though a bloody head as a religious symbol may seem overtly pagan, the Christians had their own version of Bran's head on a lunar platter: the head of St. John the Baptist on a dish.

C. Robert de Boron

Robert first made Chretien's solar grail into the cup of the Last Supper, used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch the blood that fell from the Crucified Christ. This cup has been recognized as the prototype of the Mass chalice. Because the chalice holds Christ's blood, it is probably symbolic of Christ's solar body.

D. Pseudo-Wauchier Continuation of Chretien

  • bier covered with silk cloth, bearing a body and a broken sword

The bier may be lunar in nature, as was the platter bearing the solar god's head. The body in this context is that of the dead/lame/emasculated solar king. The broken sword here replaces the lightning-lance, which is elsewhere in the romance referred to as the lance of Longinus. The Roman Longinus used this lance to pierce Christ's side during the Crucifixion. Thus Christ the Fisher of Souls is identified with the solar Fisher King.

The silk cloth may represent the cloud which veils or hides the sun and moon (for the cloud as the Holy Spirit, see the discussion of Wolfram Von Eschenbach's Parzival below).

E. Manessier's Continuation

  • lance of Longinus
  • grail used to catch Christ's blood (see above under Robert de Boron)
  • silver dish or trencher used to cover the grail to prevent exposure of the

Holy Blood

  • broken sword (broken when the sacred solar king is killed/lamed/emasculated)

Holy Grail (sun), trencher (moon) and lance (lightning) accompany Perceval's soul to heaven. Because the lunar trencher is used here to "cover" the solar grail and prevent the Holy Blood from being exposed, we can be fairly certain that the Holy Blood is indeed a symbol for the sun's light. In a solar eclipse, the sun is indeed covered by the moon and its light shielded from our view.

F. Queste del Saint Graal silver table

  • Grail (set atop table)
  • candles
  • cloth of red samite
  • bleeding lance

Here the silver table is a lunar object, the grail the sun, the candles the stars, the cloth of red samite the cloud, the bleeding lance the lightning-weapon.

G. Heinrich Von Dem Turlin

  • lights (stars)
  • spear (lightning)
  • plate of gold containing blood (sun and light, respectively)
  • box containing bread (bread = Host/sun/Christ's body, box = moon?; see below

for the lunar ark)

H. Didot-Perceval

  • bleeding lance (lightning)
  • two silver plates and clothes (moon - waxing and waning? - and clouds)
  • Grail containing Christ's blood (sun and light)

I. Perlesvaus

  • chalice (sun)
  • child (Christ the solar king at the beginning of his life/reign)
  • Crucifixion (Christ the solar king at the end of his life/reign)

J. Grand St. Graal

A very long, tiresome list of "hallows" which I will not attempt to identify. Besides the holy dish of blood, there are the nails of the Crucifixion, the Cross, the vinegar sponge, a scourge, a separate vessel of gold, a man's head, bloody swords, tapers, Christ himself, angels, holy water and a watering pot, a bloody lance head, white cloths and a red samite cloth, basins, towels, gold censors, and a man all in red.

A nice touch is the wooden ark which is built to hold the holy dish. This object was borrowed from the Bible's ark of the covenant, the latter being essentially a portable throne for Yahweh in his solar aspect. Because the throne of the Egyptian pharoah, who was himself considered a human incarnation of the sun god, was the moon goddess Isis, it is likely the ark of the covenant was also lunar in nature. The cherubim which were mounted on either end of the ark of the covenant and spread their protective wings over the mercy seat were typical stormcloud angels. A stormcloud angel or cherub guarded the Garden of Eden with its flaming lighting-sword.

K. Wolfram Von Eschenbach

Wolfram's grail is the strangest of them all: it is a stone called the lapsit exillis. 

From Roger Sherman Loomis's The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol:

"In Laprecht's Alexanderlied, vs. 7107, he [Wolfram] would have read
that the stone sent to Alexander [the Great] from the gate of the
Earthly Paradise gives 'den alden di jugint', 'gives youth to the old'.
While this text would account for the identification of the Grail with a
rejuvenating talisman, the Iter Alexandri and Paradisum suggests why
Wolfram asserted that it was called lapis exilis. This Latin text
informs us that the stone sent to the conqueror from Paradise was of
great brilliance and rare color, but was like in form and
size to a human eye. Alexander consulted his wise men in vain, but an
ancient Jew told him that the stone, when placed in scales, would
outweigh any quantity of gold; but when it was covered with a little
dirt, a feather would tip the scales against it. It was like the human
eye because human cupidity for earth's treasures is insatiable; but when
the eye is closed with dust, all lust for power and riches departs.
'This stone [lapis] prefigures thee, master of the world, warns thee,
and rebukes thee; this small [exilis] substance restrains thee
from the cravings of basest ambition.' Alexander took the lesson to
heart and abandoned his scheme of world conquest."

Supposedly the Grail-stone's power is derived from a Holy Wafer (the solar Body of Christ) that is brought down from heaven every year on Good Friday. The Host is at this time placed on the stone by a dove.

What is this dove? Origen, in his Homilies on Exodus (5.1, 5) says that "What the Jews... believe to be a cloud, Paul says is the Holy Spirit..." In the Old Testament the angel or spirit of Yahweh is the cloud. A comparison of the Baptism and Transfiguration from the Gospel of Matthew is enlightening in this regard:

As soon as Jesus was baptized he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, "This is my Son..." (Mt. 3:16)

He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, "This is my Son..." (Mt. 17:5)

So if the dove is the cloud, the Host or Body of Christ is the sun, then what is the Grail-stone?

I find it interesting that the Gral-stone of Wolfram is said to be the stone the Phoenix uses to light the fire that consumes this magical solar bird.  Medieval bestiaries either had the sun's rays or the stone start the fire.  However, many Egyptologist's think the benben stone of the bennu bird (= the Phoenix) is to be related to benbenet or the obelisk, and especially to the pyramidal shaped top of an obelisk.  The best guess for the symbolic significance of the obelisk is that it represents a ray of the sun, atop which the sun-bird perched. 


If this last view is correct, then the stone as a ray of the sun starting the fire and the sun's rays starting the fire are but two different versions of the same mythical story.


Egyptologists have also determined that all obelisks were quarried from Syene/Aswan and were of a special pink granite. 


Wolfram’s descent of the neutral angels onto the Gral-stone during the War in Heaven sounds suspiciously like the descent of angels from heaven onto the upright pillar-stone of Jacob.  Such a pillar-stone could easily have represented something similar to that which an obelisk symbolized or have been confused for an obelisk.


Lastly, there is the business about the Holy Wafer being set on the stone every Good Friday.  There can be no doubt that this refers to the Cross, which has here been related to both the obelisk/benben stone of the Phoenix and the pillar-stone of Jacob.


We would then have these apparent correspondences:


1) Benben Stone or Obelisk + Bennu Bird or Phoenix


2) Jacob's pillar-stone + angels


3) Gral-stone + the neutral angels


4) The Cross + Christ


What Wolfram is trying to tell us, in other words, is that the Gral-stone is the source of eternal life - or, at least, of eternal rebirth.  It represents, literally, the ray (or rays) of the sun, which provides us with food, drink, etc., just as occurs during the Gral feast.  The sun is the source of the ray (or rays), and can be portrayed as perching, ascending/descending or crucified on whatever symbol is used to represent the said ray (or rays). 


When Wolfram claims that the Gral-stone derives its power from the Holy Wafer placed upon it every Good Friday, he is simply stating the obvious: the benben stone/Cross or “ray of the sun” derives its power from the sun.

The Magic of the Cauldron is Copyright 2005, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments to: August Hunt


VortigernStudies is copyright Robert Vermaat 1999-2009. All rights reserved