The Mystery of the Holy Grail

[The following text has been excerpted from a private communication between myself and a friend]

"It struck [Winston Smith] as curious that you could create dead men but not living ones. Comrade Ogilvy, who had never existed in the present, now existed in the past, and when once the act of forgery was forgotten, he would exist just as authentically, and upon the same evidence, as Charlemagne or Julius Caesar."

-George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

I’m not sure where to begin this Grail dialogue, but I hardly need point out that everyone who pursues this subject has their favorite answers and approaches to the material. I’m no different in that respect. However, I’m not aware that anyone else has applied mythicism to the problem or came to the same conclusions I have. What we inevitably find in Grail research is that people tend to adopt someone else’s solution or theory or argument. Due to this habit of laziness we see few original answers. And you should bear in mind, too, that I’m not trying to convince you of anything. Rather, I’m laying out my understanding of these things as I’ve come to know them.

In my previous message I mentioned several authors (Bart D. Ehrman, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, and Randel Helms). Not one of them is a Grail researcher. They are all of them either historians or historical writers. And doubtless they would not endorse their work being used in this way or the unconventional conclusions I've arrived at.

So, moving on—

Lost Christianities, Ehrman’s survey of early Christian sects, was quite the treasure trove of information. But as I made my way through his book I began to notice a peculiarity developing: the closer we scrutinize the early Christian era, the more Gnostic groups populate the landscape. As we move forward from the first century to later years these Gnostics begin to dwindle, giving way to the literalist sects. That is, those who believed Jesus literally existed in the first century, underwent a passion, was crucified, and rose after three days. This struck me as astounding, because according to traditional history as received from on high, the Gnostics, we’re told, came later, they were an outgrowth of the literalist movements. Another oddity of Ehrman’s book was that he, the author, made no mention of this curiosity in his own text. It’s as though Erhman was unaware of it. So by book’s end it appears as though the opposite of received academic wisdom is the case. That the Gnostics were the first Christians, and literalism or historicism was the later development, in direct contradiction to Christian tradition and history as we understand it.

As you’re no doubt aware some Gnostic groups did not believe in a literal Christ. That is, a flesh and blood man who walked the dusty earth of first century Palestine. To some of them Christ was a mythical cosmic savior figure occupying a remote realm in the heavens. They further believed the world was created by a self-important Demiurge, and that there existed a supreme God the Demiurge was unaware of. This Demiurge, in their view, was the tyrannical Jewish god of the Old Testament. So in a very real sense some of these sects were in effect the first Jesus mythicists. When we view modern mythicism in this light we can see it’s not the innovation it’s accused of being, but rather a return to the original view of Christ. This view plays into my own notion of what Grail lore is trying to communicate to us.

As time goes on the Gnostics become fewer, the literalist sects more numerous, and eventually it was this strain of Christianity, literalism, that was adopted by the Roman empire. With the might and resources of an empire now readily at hand it’s easy to see how the Gnostics were deemed heretics and largely stamped out, and how we of today owe our view of Christianity to those early historicist forerunners whom Constantine held to his breast. But there is another curiosity to be answered here. For the sake of argument, if Jesus was a historical figure, how is it that some of these Gnostics came to believe otherwise so very soon on the heels of his alleged life, ministry, and crucifixion? I find this development an unlikely, mind-boggling conundrum, and yet there it is.

So it’s at this point I would normally copy and paste some of my Riddle of the Grail commentary. At the end of that piece I alluded to a second pivotal concept undergirding Grail lore. I mean, in addition to the Grail being a mirror intended to force us to recognize divinity in ourselves (see: The Riddle of the Grail). I further suggested this second idea was the reason the Albigensian Crusade was instigated and resulted in the destruction of this particular sect of southern France. So as we can see the Gnostics had not been wiped out altogether. But they had been dramatically reduced in numbers and kept for centuries a low profile up to this point. But they were still with us, clearly, nurturing the tiny flame of their secret traditions. As we’ve seen through this thumbnail sketch of mine, literalism had become the orthodox view, it loomed over all Christendom for centuries. Believing its tenets is what it meant to be a Christian. Which remains true today. Yet the earliest Gnostics, who believed in a mythical Christ, were still fully Christian. All without the necessity for a literal human sacrifice. And that, I've come to believe, is the second purpose of Grail myths. This is to say, the Grail is a clever Gnostic replacement for a literal Christ. Its popular stories are overlaid on traditional Christian narratives, in plain view--and under the very nose of--orthodox Christianity. Grail lore beckons a return to the mythic concept of the early Christian era. They attempt to tell us the literalist fictions of the canonical Gospels--including the existence of an earthly Jesus--are just that: fictions, allegories. All we need do, Grail traditions seem to say, is to recognize this for ourselves. Hence, "gnostic." One in possession of a saving knowledge.

So that’s the gist of it. I’m sure you’ll forgive me if parts of the above text are unclear or hazy. Before today I’ve never attempted to articulate some of these ideas. You are free, of course, to ask for clarification on any point you find nebulous. None of the preceding, by the way, should be taken as my personal beliefs. They’re not. I’m an atheist as you know. The Grail stories are for me mysteries to be solved, puzzles to be worked out as best as I’m able. And this fascinating subject, as one can deduce from above, has provided me over the years with a great deal of exciting thinking.