I am excited to be writing Seeking the Grail for Patheos which will explore spiritual seeking and personal growth. While I identify as a Pagan, I have a fairly ecumenical approach, and I look at many religions and spiritual paths as having both a strong connection to mythology and to personal transformation.
The core of my own spiritual work is the quest to become a better, more whole person; to become someone who is better able to serve my community and the world around me.
Because, we are usually the ones getting in our own way and causing most of our own problems.
I have been inspired by the imagery and stories of the Quest for the Grail ever since I was a kid. I think it was the movie Excalibur that grabbed me first, but I was about thirteen when I began devouring books on Celtic mythology, druids, and Celtic artwork. At that time I identified as an atheist, but I loved reading about the ancient Pagan origins of the Grail, the cauldron, the dish of plenty, the sacred chalice.
I was fifteen when I realized that there was a word for my spiritual path and it was called Paganism. I was obsessed enough with Celtic myths and legends, and the Grail in particular, and that was the first time I painted the Grail, as well as painting other mystic visions and dreams that I’d had involving flowing water.
What is the Quest for the Grail?
Is it a real cup that exists and has magical spiritual powers? Or is it simply sacred as a water-bearing vessel? Is it a cauldron or dish or cup? Or perhaps it was first one of the mighty stone basins found in megalithic passage mounds.
I believe the Grail is perhaps all those things.
The Grail is also the magic of the stories told, the lore and myths. Most of all, I believe the Grail is a quest. Just like a pilgrimage is not just the destination but the path it takes to get there, and just like the hero’s journey is not just an adventure made up of physical tasks but also the changes the hero goes through…I believe that the Grail is the heart of the seeker.
When people begin seeking the Grail for themselves, often they are seeking healing, life force, or poetic and artistic inspiration. The very nature of the journey, though–the nature of achieving the Grail–will shift our very hearts.
The Sufi mystics say the heart must break to allow the light of God to enter, and the Celtic wisdom of the Three Cauldrons offers that the cauldrons of the head and heart, of vocation and inspiration, are turned upright through the experience of great sorrow and great joy.
Achieving the Grail connects us to inspiration, to life force, to the divine within, and the greater divine by whatever name you call it. And it always changes us.
It isn’t enough just to attain the Grail, however. And, I would offer that any deeper spiritual work eventually opens us to a path of service to our fellow humans. My own visions of the divine have continually led me back to bringing those spiritual waters back not just for my own benefit, but out into the world, to my community. In much of the Grail lore, you can see this reflected as healing the Wasteland, of healing the King or Sovereign.
Many seek the Grail in the form of looking for magic or some other spiritual revelation. As an artist and writer I know that I have often been desperate to drink from that font of inspiration. As someone who has lived with depression, I have often desperately wished for that magic cup that would heal me and renew me.
Whatever it is that puts us on the path of the knight, the seeker…it is a path that will shape us. The path of spiritual seeking isn’t an easy one. It bestows blessings but will ask us to face our deepest flaws, our shadows, our fears. There is no such thing as perfection, but I believe it is always useful to ask, “How can I be a better human?”
Grail as Mirror
For me the Grail demands paradox. Can I deeply love myself and shed the judgments of society? I am too fat, too poor, too this, too that…can I shed the judgments that tear me down, but also hold in the balance that I can improve myself? Perhaps I have hurt people by my carelessness. Perhaps I have acted on autopilot and made mistakes. And, perhaps I have acted out my shadows and fears. Can I look into the mirror of the Grail waters to heal my hurts, to drink in the love log the divine, and to acknowledge the places I have caused harm to myself or others? Can I work better choices going forward?
For me the Grail is the relentless quest to know myself.
Those of us who step into a role as a leader begin this quest whether or not we intended it. When you are a leader, you either search your soul and address your flaws, or your failure to do so becomes glaringly obvious.
Seeking the Grail
This column will offer techniques and rituals for spiritual seekers exploring the path of personal transformation. I’ll also offer tools for leadership, particularly for Pagan and other grassroots leaders, as leadership and personal growth are intertwined. There may also be the occasional exploration of Grail lore, some Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung and other useful sources, as well as the occasional deep dive into visions/experiences of direct communion with the divine
I took “knight” as my last name because I am a lifelong seeker. And I believe it is the role of those of us who go out on the quest to be the knights that forge first into the untamed wild, into the dark forest, into the places we fear to look…it is our job to go there first so we can help bring those Grail waters back into the world.
What are you seeking? What calls your soul?