Introduction: Revealing an Unknown Grail Story
Back in the mid-19th century, with rather less of a flourish of trumpets, the 484 lines that comprise the 13th century French text called The Elucidation were first discovered, bound into the beginning of a manuscript known as the Mons, Bibliotèque communale, no 4568. Within this 13th century French verse text, long seen as a prequel to Chrétien’s Perceval ou Le Conte du Graal, are contained the most astonishing revelations which are never quite elucidated.
The core myth around which The Elucidation dances gives us a completely different causation for the Wasteland from the one we are used to reading in the other Grail texts. Rather than the Dolorous Blow which is struck upon the Grail King, it details how the sacred hospitality of the earth was violated and what results from that violation; it hints at the restoration and healing of the earth but, most disquietingly, it also reveals what happens when that sacred hospitality is not taken to heart. The other astonishing thing that this small text does is to turn back through time, making it a prequel of a mythic order.
A prequel has the power to range through time and space, presuming on our acquaintance with the original story as a foundational basis for understanding, while introducing new matter that interacts with characters and themes already actively in motion. This is certainly the case with the Elucidation, which is why we need to grasp this foundational basis from the outset, for this short poetic story has many windows through time where older and later themes are revisited or freshly introduced.
As with the myth of King Arthur, the Grail myth itself is made up of many individual and different stories, with a central core that is given various treatments and interpretations in the many texts that relate its finding. The many hands that have been at work on the Grail, extending and expanding, collapsing and eliding themes together, have crafted and grafted until a story from Britain has become the lode-bearing deposit of many myths, wherein Passion narratives, faery lore, chivalric adventures, gnostic secrets, and salvific legends all meld together to create a rich mélange. This fusion of myths into one story doesn’t belong to one individual nor to a specific group, but has become a myth from which anyone may learn. The Grail writers, by levelling cultural and spiritual themes with a delightful lack of distinction into one timeless narrative, enable any quester to discover how the relics of the Passion, faery hospitality, knightly honour and Gnostic lore may become part of a day’s quest.
As we approach the Elucidation, this continual unfolding and blending of themes is worth bearing in mind, because then we can find refractions and echoes that enable us to understand and illuminate the text.
Chapter 5. The Real Function of The Elucidation
This leaves us to consider what is the true function of the Elucidation. This brief text--the shortest of all Grail stories--is one that many scholars have marked as unsatisfactory because it doesn’t replicate the party line of the bigger, more impressive Grail texts. It fails to explain or elucidate easily. As a result, the Elucidation has been spoken of with slighting contempt or discarded impatiently as irrelevant to the main trajectory of the more-important Grail corpus. Like the all-important corner-stone that was rejected, the Elucidation proves to be a text that we should never discard, since it is a compendium of them all.
As well, like the nesting boxes of Tolkien’s own world of Middle Earth, in which the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are contained within the even bigger framework of the Silmarillion, so, too, the many Grail variants and continuations in their proliferation are somehow contained within the seemingly tiny text of the Elucidation.
This very sense of “little-bigness”-- wherein something apparently small contains something absolutely universal - is the uncanny but unmistakable mark of a true myth, and is a sign that we are involved with Faery lore since, in the otherworld, time and space become of little account when we enter into the heart of the myth.
Collapsed into a mere 484 lines, the whole Grail myth is encompassed within its fragile but adamantine frame in truly mind-shattering ways. Containing the whole myth, the Elucidation requires us to hold in the same story, two forms or appearances of the Grail, in an embrace of total and accepting gnosis, wherein dichotomies collapse under an appreciation of the whole picture.
Within the Elucidation, the parallel traditions of the Faery and Holy Grails sit side by side. Dismissed as a mere afterthought to the Grail myth, this short poem contains the synthesis of the whole Grail myth, honouring both sides of the earlier and later traditions which here meet together, as the storyteller relates:
The good that it served will openly
Be taught to all people.
The task of reconciling the human and faery worlds, and the task of healing the breach between the time-bound world and the timelessness of the Grail realm are not contradictory, but complementary. They each lead us to consider the duties of the human state and our relationship with our original wholeness and holiness - these words have the same meaning, although our dualistic world applies them differently. The Elucidation brings us face to face with the consequences of our actions, the outcome of human greed upon the universe, but it also gives us methods of reconciliation and healing. If we follow the way of our quest, the world will no longer be wasteland.