Sunday, June 5, 2016

Questing for The Grail Quest

El Santo Cáliz - Acid etched copper, fretwork, oxides, backed in mulberry paper.

I recently started listening to the archived lectures of the Temenos Academy (U.K.) and listened to one just the other day given in April of 2010 by Jules Cashford on Wolfram's Parzival (  It was that insightful retelling of the Grail legend that led me to choose the Grail as subject for this week's post.

It has been several years ago now since I was given the assignment of The Grail for an illumination.  At first I was a bit appalled, knowing nothing directly about the Grail other than it was a chalice somehow associated with some Christian myth and there had been a best selling book out having to do with a daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene - neither of which subjects I felt any connection to.  When I receive an assignment, however, I have disciplined myself to put all aversions aside and do my best to figure out why this has come to me.  I started with a chalice, which at least I could associate with a feminine receptacle. I saw a form coming together around the chalice I was going to use.  As you can see above, it is something like a chalice itself only upside down. I saw the arabesques where they are, but I saw something else as well - I saw words.  I asked what the words are and I distinctly heard: "Look for a question."  Well, that sent me on a different path entirely since now I had to search for the story in order to "look for a question."   

I did the normal Google search and found that the story I had to find was about a character named Parsifal or Parzival.  I knew there was an opera by Wagner with that name. So I started there. Then I found a beautiful French poem in translation about the story, but it wasn't until I tackled the full story written in High German by Wolfram von Eschenbach that I got it.

The entire story is about a question.  It is not, in any way about an answer.  It is Parzival who is destined to ask this question. It is what the Grail Quest is all about, the only key that will unlock the door to the grail castle, redeem the fisher king from his terrible ailment and ultimately redeem the world (redeem = make true again).

I thought of my friend Jacob, with whom I studied Hebrew texts for all the 26 years of our friendship.  His favorite psalm was Yimalei Havayah Kol Mishalotecha - which only made sense to me now and within this context: "Havaya (The Verb of Creation) will fill all of your questions."

We live in a society that places a high value on expertise - the ones who have the answers.  To be cool you need to always have your trigger finger on the quick comeback, the fast retort. 
Wisdom, however, does not reside in "the answer" but in being empty and open to the filling with what you do not yet know. The Talmud says that the purpose of disease is so that you will seek for the cure that pre-existed. Interestingly, the Hadith too says that Allah has not created any disease for which the healing was not first created.

The words that I was led to through my journey through the Grail quest became: Empty of Answers A Question Redeems.  Included too are two of the words from Jacob's psalm: Yimalei Havaya - "Havaya will fill" written in medieval Rashi script at the center top.

As a confirmation, my German friend Karin DiGiacomo, who cut her teeth on Wolfram's Parzival, said when she saw the completed illumination that a truer translation of the question Parzival asks the fisher king would be "What are you empty of?" as opposed to "What ails you sir?

Wolfram provided me with yet another gem that made it clear that this assignment had my name on it.  He spoke of the grail being made of stone with Arabic writing carved into it!  What if I could actually find and incorporate that Arabic writing?!!

Living the in Google age, I did a search.  Would you believe it? I found that there lives in Valencia, Spain a chalice called El Santo Cáliz that is composed of an upper half-hemisphere of carnelian and a bottom half-hemisphere of chalcedony. There is a very old form of Cufic (Arabic) writing engraved into the inside of the base.  Wolfram believed it to be an Arabic transliteration of the poor Latin phrase: Il Lapsit Exillis.   The website I found had a photograph of this chalice (17cm high) along with a discussion among Arabists as to what the Cufic script actually said. One thought it was a "Bismillah" another a "La Illaha Ilallah"... , but there was one scholar who believed that it actually could be L LPST EXLS - Il Lapsit Exillis minus the vocalization (vowels). This is when I started to hear the theme song from The Twilight Zone.

Needless to say,  I ditched the chalice I was going to use for El Santo Cáliz sans the pearls, emeralds and rubies.  I made my image equal to the 17 centimeters of the original (Jacob loved the number 17, which is "good" in gematria), and included the inscription Il Lapsit Exillis at the bottom center of the piece.

I too have been transformed by this quest.