In the first post, I offered an overview of the Grail Quest and Hero’s Journey as the path of the Seeker, the Shaman, and the Sovereign. And I asked, How could I heal those holes in the cup of my heart? How could I fill with the life-bearing waters?
Follow Your Bliss
The Grail mystery I had sought was as simple—and as difficult—as knowing myself. When I’m ignited for a vision, I stand at the fountain-waters of the source. When I am excited for a project, the energies of the universe seem to pour through me. I didn’t find “the” Grail—I found “my” Grail, the vessel of my own heart that filled me up with love. As mythologist Joseph Campbell was known to say, “Follow your bliss.” When I do so, my energy seems limitless.
I live for the moments when I’ve been awake for days, the project is on the line, and someone’s told me, “That’s impossible.” My moments of inspiration come when a project is epic; the right kind of challenge thrills me. I’m lit up by a dream of building Pagan community, building shrines, or planning events. Whether I’m painting, planning a conference, facilitating a ritual, or hauling rocks, when I pull something off with my team and knock people’s socks off, that radiant feeling inside my chest is my own Grail.
“…The reason for the quest – this desire to penetrate the Grail of one’s own being. If the answer lies in some private inner mystery, the reason for the quest becomes a need to identify the inner being with the desired goal. He who achieves the Grail is the one who succeeds in healing both a psychospiritual wound and the death-struck kingdom of the Grail King.”
— John Matthews, The Grail: Quest for the Eternal
What is your Grail? What brings you joy? What work have you done that you wished would never end? And what wounds have broken your heart? What unhealed past hurts keep you from staying energized?
I found that these wounds kept me from holding onto energy; I couldn’t inspire myself, or my team. They also made me an ineffective leader. When I acted out of a wounded place, I made the same leadership mistakes over and over.
Whom Does the Grail serve?
The central Grail challenge is a question asked by the Grail Maiden, the Shaman, the one initiated into the mysteries of the Grail. The Grail Knight is asked different questions depending upon the story. What is the Grail? Whom does it serve? In Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval, the Story of the Grail, the Grail Knight must ask, “How can I serve you?” of the Grail. Offering his service to the Grail—instead of asking it to serve him—unlocks the Grail’s powers to heal the land.
When I exercised my core talents while working in service to something larger than myself instead of seeking someone or something to fill up my heart, I found the bliss that filled me even as I poured out my energies. I consistently find myself the most energized when I the work has meaning for me, when I’m working for a larger vision that serves the divine, my community, a larger dream, or my highest self.
When I use the waters of the Grail in service, the Grail serves me and fills me with the energies I need to be inspired. When I am filled and fulfilled, the waters can pour out of me into the world, into the community.
“The Grail knight must see his own face reflected in the cup.”
—John Matthews, The Grail: Quest for the Eternal
The Grail is a story of pulsation, of sending and receiving, of back and forth much like the rhythm of spiraling through the turns of a labyrinth to the center and back. The chalice is a metaphor for the heart, for the seat of emotion. The heart, at the center of our body, contracts and expands. Filling, pouring, releasing, and filling again.
There is no Grail without blood. Without pulsation. Without flow.
The Grail as a Path of Service
Looking at my own journey, and the journey of other seekers before me, I see the Grail Quest as a path of initiation through challenges and self-knowledge toward to the ability to lead through service. Through this, we may serve the divine, our community, and bring the life-changing energies of the Grail to a world that needs such service.
The Grail Shaman offers the waters of the Grail to the Knight, the Seeker. The Knight, now able to hold the Grail, becomes an initiate of the Grail able to offer the Grail Service—to offer the divine sustenance to those who seek it. Forevermore, the Seeker-turned-Shaman will hold the mystery of filling from their own source. The initiated Shaman knows themselves, knows what their bliss is, knows how to serve. The Shaman can never unknow themselves or those mysteries. They no longer need to seek elsewhere for someone else to fulfill them, because they know that the source is deep within themselves, within the Grail of their own heart.
Bringing the Grail Into the World
When the Shaman takes the Grail out in service to the world, the Shaman becomes the Sovereign. The Sovereign who holds the Grail can pour out its waters and renew the land and community. Leadership doesn’t require that we are the hierarchical head of a spiritual tradition, that we lead a group, or that we run a company. Sovereignty and the path of service can be part of our own daily work and our own daily connection to the divine and the people we love.
Leadership is a path of service. The Seeker becomes the Shaman when they gain the mysteries, but the deeper mysteries of becoming the Sovereign are—at a core level—about service to our friends, our family, our community, and the world around us. Sovereignty can refer to our own personal empowerment.
John Matthews writes that “the Grail serves us in proportion to our service to the land and to the world about us.” The Grail serves the work that is your bliss, and it serves to fill the cup of your heart, for without self care, you cannot serve community effectively.
I feel the weight of the Grail in my hand. It is mine to use in service to my dream, my highest self, my community, my world. As a leader, and one who knows at least some of the mysteries of my own personal Grail, I bear the chalice in service. As I sought the energy of its waters to fill my own parched heart, so I am too now a bearer of the Grail to bring the waters to a dry, dry land.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Heaviness of Initiation
When I think of my initiation ritual after 3 years of leadership training at Diana’s Grove, I recall a gauntlet of dozens of people holding candles in the dark. As I walked between them, they each said, “I believe in you.” Over and over, dozens of voices. And then, at the end of the gauntlet, “Don’t let us down. We believe in you. Don’t let us down.” My peers, my mentors, my friends, speaking this over and over as they looked into my eyes, our faces lit by candles in the moonlit night.
Whenever I facilitate a ritual, or plan an event, I feel the heaviness of it, the ripple of my impact, and I see those rows of candles. I feel the weight of knowing myself, and knowing it’s my own responsibility to find my way to inspiration.
Will you, too, bear this weight?
I have not healed all the wounds of my heart; there are times when I get depressed, when I can’t seem to find my inspiration. There are still wounds, cracks through the cup of my heart. But the more personal work that I do, the greater I find the capacity of my heart to fill with love, and I find I’m a stronger leader for it.
I realize that to change the world, to be the leader I want to be and build community centers, temples, and healthy, sustainable communities for Pagans, I have had to transform myself and open my heart. Claiming my Grail gives me the power to inspire, and I hope that the work I do will ripple, ripple, ripple out to transform the world.
What Grail do you serve? What gifts, love, and inspiration fill you? How do you serve others with your gifts?
First published in CIRCLE Magazine, Issue 104, Fall 2009
*Note: I use the word “shaman” to refer to a job/function, not to the specific Tungusic spiritual traditions. Priest, priestess, witch, druid, sorcerer, wizard, healer, magician, medicine man…none of these quite work for what I’m trying to convey. The word “shaman” has been borrowed into English and used by explorers and anthropologists to refer to the function of a magical spirit worker and religious specialist in any tribal culture, though it most likely comes from the Tungusic Evenki language. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamanism
Images above courtesy of the author.