I talking to a friend yesterday while we were hiking. It was a four or five mile hike at 6000 feet above sea level in three or four inches of snow up and down steep climbs, my calves hurt, and my face is as red as a lobster from the sun off the snow, ouch!
I made a joke that he didn’t catch as a joke and responded to seriously, I forget what it was now. My I cued him in on the joke, he replied that honour only works if the other person isn’t stupid. I said not stupid, it’s a matter of thinking about something a different way.
I continued by explaining that it’s the same with riddles, most riddles are obvious and don’t take much to figure out, the secret is to look at it in a different way, that looking straight on you can’t see it, but step to the side, it becomes clear and obvious.
This is of course that way with the Mysteries as well. They aren’t hard, but without looking from the right direction, they are hard to see.
Take for example Perceval in de Troyes’ unfinished Graal story, the source for all other such tales. In summary:
Perceval is emphatically instructed by his teacher not to ask too many questions and to remain silent and listen as much as possible. Good advise in spirit and in many circumstances, but he took it to heart as Law, as a black and white rule (the way I tend to take boundaries, not as changing with circumstance, so I relate well to the young knight). When he comes to the castle of the Fisher King, he sees the procession of the Graal carrying the church wafer back and forth throughout the feast, the Sword, and the Lance that bleeds, the three elements of what can be called the Graal Mysteries. He wants to ask about them but remembers his teacher’s admonitions and remains silent, never asking the questions that burn on his mind. The rest of the myth relates the consequences of not asking, of having Fate before him and not grasping a hold of her, of how wretched he is for not asking, of his five years of wasted life before he finds the Hermit King, of how his asking could have healed the Fisher King and healed the land, restoring the Wasteland to what it was before, and most of all, the revealing of who Perceval truly is, and who the Fisher and Hermit Kings are.
Consider these three elements the occur throughout the Graal myths and the Arthurian Legends and into modern fiction and modern traditions. They change, but what they represent remains the same. And it’s that which the represent that are the Mysteries. I will not explain the elements here, but will talk a bit about them.
First, we have the Graal, which became the focus of the Quests. In this first tale, it is a serving dish, like one meat would be carried out on. On it is one church wafer, the body of Christ. In this first tale, it is carried back and forth many times, the wafer on it as it passes through the room, returning without it. The question that wasn’t asked is whom is this wafer served to? The Graal at this point is the vessel, not the focus. The wafer isn’t even the focus, it’s the person being served, the unseen person. As it progressed in later tales, the focus changes to the dish, and it takes on the role of serving the feast hall with large fish. And it changes again, taking on the guise we now see, a goblet or chalice, that will heal whomever drinks of it, and this becomes the Fisher King, or King Arthur, or both, depending on which story you look at. But in the first tale, the person being served by the Grail ate from it repeatedly and was never healed, so drinking from it is obviously the wrong direction. Healing is in the question. How this works and the reason for it is of course the Mystery behind the myth.
Next, we have the Sword. In this first tale, it is just mentioned when passing through in the procession, but appears again when it is brought to the King, who bestows it on the knight. It is possibly two swords in this myth, as the sword is just mentioned as it is carried back and forth, but the sword presented is said to have just arrived. Perceval is told the next morning to beware the sword for it will break in his time of greatest need in battle, but no more mention is made of the sword in de Troyes’ tale, possibly because it was never finished. In the first continuation, though, the author of that story brings it back in, showing it broken. Worthiness for the Graal is shown by repairing it, a smith skill of course. Gawain repairs it three times, breaking it in between. The last time, he can’t completely repair it, there’s a nick in it. This is said to mean he hasn’t reached his full strength and isn’t worthy yet. He leaves and he healed the Wasteland but not the King. This motif of repairing the broken sword continues in later myths until it merges with the story of Odin’s sword Gram, which he drove into a tree and none could pull it out until Sigmund did, this became the sword in the stone, that pulling the sword out marked worthiness to be king, something Arthur of course did. But the original myth talked of the importance of the Sword, and the warning of when it would break, not on the repair or retrieval of it. Once again, we need to look at it from a different angle to see the Mystery behind the myth.
Finally, we have the bleeding Lance. In this first tale, it carried at the back of the procession, then it is presented for the young knight to see. It is a lance that blood continually drips from the tip of. Nothing more is explained about the Lance, merely comment about how asking about it and the Graal would have healed the Fisher King and healed the Land and revealed who Perceval truly was. In the first continuation, it appears hung on a wall with a silver basin collecting the blood, but nothing more was said. Later it joins with the spear the Centenarian used pierce Christ’s side, with Lugh’s spear, and possibly Odin’s spear. Possibly this conflation occurred already. It later became Rhongomyniad (meaning roughly Spear-Slayer or spear that slays, later Rhongomiant or Ron), but did not continue much in Arthurian Legend. As the Spear of Destiny, it has continued in other genres, but the element of the bleeding tip has been lost, and is the place to focus to find the Mystery behind the myth.
It is interesting that the Spear of Destiny is seen as an instrument that when yielded allows you to change the destiny of the world, when you consider a quote concerning Fate and the Graal in Cochrane’s second letter to Joe Wilson:
Some groups seek fulfilment in mystic experience – this is correct if one does not forget the duty of ‘involvement’ – the prime duty of the wise. It is not enough to see The Lady, it is better to serve Her and Her will by being involved in humanity, and the process of Fate (The single name of all God’s is ‘Fate’). In fate, and the overcoming of fate is the true Graal, for from this inspiration comes, and death is defeated. There is no fate so terrible that it cannot be overcome – whether by a literal victory gained by action and in time, or the deeper victory of spirit in the lonely battle of the self, Fate is the trial, the Castle Perilous in which we all meet to win or to die – Therefore, the People are concerned with Fate –for humanity is greater than the Gods’, although not as great as the Goddess. When Man triumphs, fate stops and the Gods are defeated – so you understand the meaning of magic now. Magic and religion are aids to overcome Fate, and Fate is a cradle that rocks the infant spirit. (http://www.1734-witchcraft.org/lettertwo.html)
So, the Graal is the overcoming of Fate, or the Graal is in the overcoming of Fate. And the Lance turns Destiny in the direction the wielder chooses. And the Sword determines worthiness, points out Fate. All interesting, but just sidelines of course.
But Cochrane brings us back to the original discussion of looking at humour or a riddle or the Mysteries from a different angle, in a different way. In his third letter to Joe Wilson, Cochrane had the following to say:
Obviously you wish to know how one asks correctly – This is known as ‘Approaching or Greeting the Altar’. There are many altars, one is raised to every aspect you can think upon, but there is only one way to approach an altar or Godstone. There is a practice in the East known as “Kundalini”, or shifting the sexual power from its basic source to the spine and then to the mind.
Cattle use this principle extensively, as you will note if you creep silently up to a deer or a cow – since there is always one beast that will turn its back to you, and then twist its neck until it regards you out of its left or right eye alone. It is interpreting you by what is laughingly known as ‘psi’ power and that is how an altar is used – with your back to it, and head turned right or left to regard the cross of the Elements and Tripod that are as sacred to the People as the Crucifix is to the Christians.
Before you do this however, it is necessary to offer your devotions and prayers by bowing three times to the Altar, with arms crossed upon your chest and then turn about the Altar (which for normal purposes should be round, hence King Arthur) the number of the Deity you are invoking or praying to. The Maid is usually three times three – the Mother six times three, the Hag (which is anything but the true title), nine times three. Upon the last turn stop with your back to the Altar, and there begin your great chant. With a group one works in absolute silence, but by yourself it is easier to utter your prayer and meditation aloud until you begin to speak as one possessed’.
Upon this point you will feel as if you are near a great bell that has begun to toll – this is the point of mysticism and magic – then you can achieve what you desire – do not be afraid, since it will feel as if you are in a boat on a stormy sea, and your body and spirit will part company, so that you will feel sensations of being in two different places at once. then you may journey to them and they will answer you when you are ready – but not before – so there is a long path of work, experience and failure ahead of you. They will also teach you what you need to know – but never confuse what you want with what you need, or else they are loathe to help. It is better to find an old sacred place and work there – rather than attempt it in the places of man. There is sure to be one place within six miles of you – usually in your case an Indian burial ground or stone ring. (http://www.1734-witchcraft.org/letterthree.html)
This description, specifically the idea of facing away and looking back over the shoulder, describes in physical action what I’m describing in mental action. You won’t see the Mysteries looking at them straight on. You will only see them when you change your perspective and look from a different angle, over your shoulder as it were. And then you will see it, and wonder why you didn’t before. For it was right there in front of you. Be it a joke, a riddle, or the deepest of all Mysteries.