Arthurian & Grail Lore

Arthurian and Grail lore make up The Matter of Britian which is deeply integral to the Druid tradition.

The Arthurian Legend

Somewhere in Britain, high in the mountains, the body of King Arthur, clothed in armour and wearing his crown, lies in a state of suspended animation in a hidden cave. When his people need him, he will awaken from his sleep and lead them once again to fulfil their destiny. Some say the cave is in Scotland, others in Wales; others still claim that Arthur sleeps at Alderley Edge in Cheshire or at Sewingshield Crags in Northumberland.

There are many versions of the Arthurian legend, but the basic story remains the same. Arthur was the illegitimate child of Igraine, the wife of Gorlois of Cornwall, and the king of Britain, Uther Pendragon. Their union was masterminded by Merlin, and after the child was born he ensured that Arthur was raised in secret until the time came for him to claim the throne. Arthur was recognized as the rightful king when he was the only contender to succeed in withdrawing a sword embedded in stone. Another sword, Excalibur, was given to Arthur by a mysterious Lady of the Lake.

Advised by his magician, Merlin, Arthur was a wise and magnanimous ruler, who gathered around him the knights of the Round Table at his court at Camelot. His fate was sealed, however, when his sister, the sorceress Morgan le Fay, encouraged his estranged son (or, in some tales, nephew) Mordred to seize the throne in his absence. At the Battle of Camlann, before Arthur killed him, Mordred delivered a fatal blow, and Arthur’s body was carried away on a barge to Avalon.

The Grail Legend

Modern experts on the Grail, such as John Matthews in his book, The Grail Seeker’s Companion, point to ancient myths involving magical vessels that may be the primal sources of the Grail symbol, such as the ‘Cauldron of Annwn’, which had the power to restore the dead to life again. The very early Welsh text, the Preiddeu Annwn, tells how King Arthur set sail with three shiploads of warriors to find this vessel in the Underworld.

When understood in this way, the Grail emerges first as a pagan symbol, embraced by the Celts and Druids amongst others. As a symbol of the Mother Goddess it is ideal as it represents both womb and breast. By the medieval era this vessel of nourishment and rebirth was transferred from the Goddess to God, and became the chalice that was used by Christ at the Last Supper, which later caught drops of his blood when on the cross. In recent years writers have attempted to return the Grail to the Goddess once more. For example, the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail suggest that it should actually be understood as the womb of Mary, which carried the bloodline of Jesus, an idea also found in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code.

The Grail & Arthurian Myths in Druidry

In modern Druidry, the story of Taliesin, which features a primordial grail in the shape of Ceridwen’s cauldron, is used as a teaching vehicle for spiritual development. When Druids cast a magic circle about them, they often sense the sacred space created in this way as a grail or vessel in which they can open themselves to receive and radiate inspiration and blessings. In public Druidic ceremonies, a sword is sometimes raised aloft with the cry: ‘Behold this sword Excalibur, which rose from the lake of still meditation and was returned to it again. The sword of spirit, of light and truth, is always sharp and always with us, if our lake be stilled.’

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