Migration — What I’m Reading Now

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I still don’t know why I put Jessie L. Weston’s Ritual to Romance on my list of books to borrow from Wesleyan’s library. Must have read about it somewhere, but who knows where? The complete text is online, but I suspect I decided it would be better to have the dead trees and ink version in order to read in comfort.
Anyway, I’m about half way through and am finding tough going. Ms. Weston propounds the theory that the Holy Grail as presented in the Arthurian legend had its roots in ancient India and in the death-rebirth rituals of that pervade agricultural societies from Babylon to Greece.
The details of her argument would be much easier to understand if great chunks of the text weren’t in ancient German and French that looks like it was written around the time of Chaucer with estre for être, lor for leur and hom for homme. And those are the words I recognize! Since the book was published in 1920, Ms. Weston assumed that her readers would be literate in the ancient and modern versions of both languages. I was just grateful that she translated the “Lament for Tammuz” from the original  Babylonian and didn’t decide that her readers were literate in that as well.
One mystery at this point: Why does Ms. Weston omit, or at least postpone, references to the death and resurrection of Jesus as part of the continuum? She finds evidence of this ritual from ancient times up to the early twentieth century where it remained a practice among the Shilluk people of southern Sudan. They worship the king as the incarnation of the demigod who brings the rain. He holds power until he can no longer “satisfy the desires of his wives.” At that point he is put to death and thereafter worshiped as the demigod. With references to such rituals from every corner of the globe over several millennia, why ignore the largest death-and-resurrection cult of them all?
A related mystery is why Ms. Weston writes extensively about the role of water in the rituals but fails to mention its obvious symbolism. She reiterates the need for water to nourish the land, the animals, and the people, but she omits its other role representing spirituality. Purification of the spirit is achieved often through the application of water – Christianity’s baptism being the most obvious contemporary example. In many of the death and resurrection rituals she describes, the people consign the body of the dead king to the water.
She explains the history of the Tarot in developing her argument, even calling the suit of Cups “Grail” at one point. Most writers on the subject of the esoteric aspects of the deck agree that the suit of Cups is ruled by the element of water. The picture on the Ace of Cups in the Rider deck is a representation of the Grail itself. It shows a hand holding a chalice from which five streams of water flow into a pool. A dove appears to be dipping the host emblazoned with a Greek cross into the chalice. The drops of water around the chalice form Yods, divine points of energy according to Hebrew tradition, and representing spiritual knowledge in the esoteric tradition.
Maybe Ms. Weston will get to the water-chalice connection in the romance section of the book, though I peeked ahead and it doesn’t look as if she does. Despite these omissions, Ritual to Romance is fascinating.

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One Response to “Migration — What I’m Reading Now”

  1. Migration — Apologies to Jessie L. « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] to Romance,” not “Ritual to Romance.” Second having finished the book (see “What I’m Reading Now“), I now recognize that she was not ignoring Christianity but was rather building up to her […]

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