"If there is one thing which appears more clearly than another in some books of the Philopsophers it is that the Stone of Alchemy is not a stone at all and that the Elixar of Alchemy is not a brew or an essence which can be poured out from ewers or basins."
A.E. White: The Holy Grail
The essential Christian myth is that the Grail was used to contain the blood of the Crucified, and that thereafter the magical treasure was perpetuated, so that men went in search of it, hero-Knights who followed the 'Quest', the 'Way of the Cross'. To all who were on that road the Grail stood as their inspiration and their goal.
Legend hath it that Cerridwen had two children. Creiwy was the most beautiful girl in all the world. Afagddu, her son, was the ugliest boy. They lived on an island in the middle of Lake Tegid. To compensate for Afagdddu’s ugliness, Cerridwen decided to make him highly intelligent. So according to a recipe contained in the books of Vergil of Toledo the magician (hero of a twelfth century romance), she boiled up a cauldron of inspiration and knowledge, which had to be kept on the simmer for a year and a day. Season by season she added to the brew magical herbs gathered in their correct planetary hours.
When finally Gwion thrust into his mouth some drops of the mead he at once understood the nature and meaning of all things past, present and future.
The 19th of January is the anniversary of my husband, Darryl’s death. He lost a fierce battle with cancer and I am still to understand the meaning of all things past, present and future.
In honour of his memory, on the 19th of January 2009, I asked those, who wanted to help in some way, to stop and think of us and add some magical herbs and other ingredients to this cauldron, in the hope that one day all will become clearer.
The result was truly magical and if I could bottle some of this potion and dispense it to the world I would.
G is for Grail
The magic Otherworld vessel was the Cauldron of Ceridwen, the Celtic Goddess of Inspiration. She is remembered today in the archetypal hideous cauldron-stirring witch.
In the story, Ceridwen is said to dwell in the midst of Lake Bala in Powys, with her husband, Tegid Moel ('Beautiful Bald One'). They have three children: Morfran ('Cormorant'); Creirwy ('Crystal Egg'), the most beautiful maiden in the world; and Afagddu ('Utter Darkness'), the most ill-favoured man. To compensate Afagddu for his ugliness, Ceridwen decides to make him all-wise by brewing him a magical cauldron of Inspiration (i.e. Awen) "according to the arts of the Fferyllt ('Alchemists, or Metal-workers')". The cauldron must brew for a year and a day, and Ceridwen sets two people to tend it while she goes out gathering herbs; a blind man called Morda ('Good Sea' or 'Great Good'), and a child named Gwion Bach ('Little Innocent'). On the last day, three drops of liquid fly out from the cauldron and burn Gwion's finger. He puts it to his mouth and instantly gains the three gifts of poetic inspiration, prophecy, and shape- shifting. Unfortunately, the rest of the brew is deadly poisonous andthe cauldron bursts its sides. With his gift of prophecy, Gwion knows that Ceridwen will try to kill him for having taken the draught meant for her son, so he uses his shape-shifting ability to flee in the shape of a hare. Ceridwen pursues him in the form of a greyhound bitch, so he turns into a fish. She transforms into an otter bitch. He becomes a bird; she a hawk. He becomes a grain of wheat and hides on a threshing floor, but Ceridwen becomes a black hen and swallows him.
The cauldron then reappears in the story of Bran Fendigaid (the Blessed), not only as a vessel of knowledge and plenty, but also of rebirth. The great Celtic warrior God, Bran, obtained his life-giving vessel from a giantess (or thinly veiled Ceridwen) who had been expelled from a Lake in Ireland. The Emerald Isle here personifies the Celtic Otherworld. The magic vessel would restore to life the body of any dead warrior placed within it: a scene apparently depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron. Bran's sister marries the King of Ireland and they are given the cauldron as a wedding gift. However, when hostilities between the two countries break out, Bran travels across the ocean to regain this dangerous prize. He is eventually successful, but is wounded by a poisoned spear and, like Arthur, only seven of his men return home. The name, the castle (already discussed), the wound, the mystic vessel, the journey: Bran Fendigaid is clearly Brons, the Grail King, son-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea.
When one heads off on a quest it is not so unusual to want to know what you are seeking so that, when you see it you will know that you have found the object of the search.
By the most universal consent the Grail lies in no building made with human hands but belongs to the land of the Ever-Living. Those who are engaged upon the Quest have therefore to conquer the threshold of another world and it is thus that Arthur Pendragon seeks in the 'Spoils of Annwn'.
If the Stone of Alchemy is not a stone at all and the Elixar of Alchemy is not a brew or an essence which can be poured out from ewers or basins what is it that you seek? Meditate and come to terms with what your personal grail is.