The Path – September 1891

THE ALLEGORY OF THE CUP — Katharine Hillard

When Rabelais' hero, Pantagruel, has completed the long and toilsome voyage of discovery that he makes for the benefit of his friend Panurge, the two arrive at last at the shrine of the Divine Bottle, to which they are guided by the illustrious Lantern, emblem of the light of Truth. The whole description of their progress through the underground region in which the temple they seek is built, is full of the symbolism of initiation, through whose manifold tests the travellers are obliged to pass. The mystical seven planets, with their appropriate jewels and metals, are represented here, and the twelve signs of the zodiac, with other astronomical figures, are painted upon the dome over the fountain, which is itself shaped like a heptagon within a perfect circle. From this temple the neophyte, specially arrayed for the ceremony, is conducted to the inner shrine, a round chapel built of transparent stone of richest workmanship. Within it is another seven-angled fountain, in the midst of which stands the Divine Bottle, a pure, oval crystal. The hymn of invocation having been sung, the oracle pronounces the one word "DRINK!"

And the priestess dismisses the seekers with these words: "Here below, in these circumcentral regions, we establish as the sovereign good, not to take and receive, but to impart and give; and we reckon ourselves happy, not in taking much of others' goods, but in imparting and giving of our own to our fellows. Go, friends, in the protection of that intellectual sphere of which the centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere, that we call God. All philosophers and ancient sages, the more surely and pleasantly to accomplish the road of divine knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom, have esteemed two things necessary- — the guidance of God and the love of mankind. Now go, in the name of God, and may He be your guide!"

It is easy to see the identity of this Divine Bottle with the sacred cup or consecrated drink of all nations. The Greek and Roman gods drank from the cup of Hebe or Ganymede (two personifications of the same idea), and the priestesses of their oracles also drank deep draughts of the sacred beverage before they prophesied, as in India the Soma juice still inspires the Brahmin at the altar. In the second Book of Esdras, ch. XIV, Esdras is commanded by a vision to re-write the burnt books of the law, and to prepare him for the task he is told by the Voice, "Open thy mouth, and drink that I give thee to drink." "Then opened I my mouth," says Esdras, "and behold, he reached me a full cup, which was full as it were with water, but the color of it was like fire. And I took it and drank: and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory."

In the 2nd volume of Isis, p. 560, we are told that in the sacred rites of Bacchus (from which the ceremony of the Eucharist was derived) the hierophant-initiator presented symbolically before the final revelation wine and bread to the candidate, who partook of both in token that the spirit was to quicken matter, that is, that the divine Wisdom was to be revealed to him. And in a note to p. 228, Vol. I, of the Secret Doctrine, we read that "Soma is with the Hindus the father, albeit illegitimate, of Buddha Wisdom," that is, that occult knowledge comes from a thorough understanding of lunar mysteries, or, taking Soma as the sacred beverage, that wisdom, "albeit illegitimate," follows the drinking of it.

With the ceremony of the Eucharist and its sacred vessels is closely connected the symbolism of the Holy Grail, the principal motif in the legends of King Arthur.

The stories of the Holy Grail are all to be traced back to the legend of St. Joseph of Arimathea, who was said to have brought to Britain from the Holy Land the sacred vessel of the Last Supper. In the French prose romance of the Saint Grail, it is said that St. Joseph, having obtained leave from Pilate to take down the body of Jesus from the cross, first went to that upper room where the Last Supper was held, and found there the shallow bowl from which Christ was said to have eaten the paschal lamb with his disciples. And into this cup, as the body was lowered from the cross, fell many drops of blood from the still open wounds. "According to Catholic theology, where the body or the blood of Christ is," (points out Mr. Thomas Arnold)," there, by virtue of the hypostatic union, are His soul and His divinity." The Grail therefore becomes a divine marvel and mystery, a worker of miracles and wonders. By the Grail, St. Joseph's life was sustained in prison for forty-two years without food, and from it he imbibed also the food of spiritual wisdom. Wherever we find the symbol of the bowl, the bottle, or the cup, the idea, is expressed or implied of divine wisdom as its contents. So in Hermes Trismegistus, as translated into French by Menaro, we read: "God did not create all men with Intuition, because he wished to establish it in the midst of the souls of men as a prize to strive for. He filled a great bowl with it, and sent it by a messenger, ordering him to cry to the hearts of men: 'Baptise ye, ye who can, in this bowl; ye who believe that you will return to Him who has sent it, ye who know wherefore you are born!' And those who answered the call, and were baptised in this Intuition, these possess the Gnosis, and have become the initiated of the Spirit, the perfect men. Those who did not understand the call possess reason but not Intuition, and know not wherefore and by whom they were formed. Composed alone of passions and desires, they do not admire that which is worthy to be contemplated, but give themselves up to the pleasures and appetites of the body, and believe that this is the end of man. But those who have received the gift of God, judging by their works, O Tat, are immortal, and no longer mortal. They embrace, by intuition, all that is in the earth and in the heavens, and all that there may be above the heavens. Disdaining all things corporeal and incorporeal, they aspire towards the One and the Only. This is the wisdom of the Spirit, to contemplate Divine things, and to know God. This is the blessing of the Divine Bowl."

Sometimes the symbol of the cup is transmuted into that of the well or the fountain. In a note to p. 551 of Isis Unveiled, V. II, H. P. B. says: "The 'well,' in the kabalistic sense, is the mysterious emblem of the Secret Doctrine." "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink," says Jesus (John vii, 38), and therefore Moses, the adept, is represented sitting by a well, to which the seven daughters of the Priest of Midian come for water. And in the story of the woman of Samaria Jesus sat by a well, and used it as the symbol of spiritual wisdom. "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again," said Jesus, "but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." (John iv, 13-14.)

As the fountain of Moses had seven priestesses, the fountain of Rabelais seven angles, so the mystic fountain of Boccaccio (in the Ameto) is surrounded by seven nymphs, for "Wisdom has rested her house upon seven pillars." Prov. ix, 1.

When we come down from the symbolism of the Middle Ages to that of modern times, we find the story of the Holy Grail most beautifully retold by Tennyson. If he has omitted the incident of the drops of blood that fell from the figure upon the cross into the Cup, he has restored another point in the old legends of King Arthur quite as significant, the story of the "Siege perilous" of Merlin, that magic chair that always stood vacant, for Merlin had declared that therein

"No man could sit but he should lose himself."

But Sir Galahad, the maiden knight, burning with desire to find the Holy Grail, caught the true meaning of the oracle, and crying " If I lose myself, I save myself!", sat down in Merlin's chair.

"And all at once, as there we sat, we heard
A cracking and a riving of the roofs,
And rending, and a blast, and overhead
Thunder, and in the thunder was a cry.
And in the blast there smote along the hall
A beam of light seven times more clear than day:
And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail
All over covered with a luminous cloud,
And none might see who bare it, and it past.
But every knight beheld his fellow's face
As in a glory,"

and then it was that all the knights present swore a vow to ride for a year and a day in search of the Holy Grail, because they had seen not itself, but only the cloud that covered it. But Sir Galahad, having "lost himself, to save himself", had seen the Holy Grail descend upon the shrine, and move before him like a blood-red star, to guide his steps. Sir Percival comes up with him as he is nearing the end of his quest, and Sir Galahad bids his friend come with him to watch his departure to the spiritual city. And Sir Percival went, and saw, stretching out across a great morass, an ancient way

     "Where, link'd with many a bridge,
A thousand piers ran into the great Sea.
And Galahad fled along them bridge by bridge.
And every bridge as quickly as he crost
Sprang into fire and vanish'd, tho' I yearned
To follow; and thrice above him all the heavens
Opened and blazed with thunder such as seemed
Shoutings of all the sons of God: and first
At once I saw him far on the great Sea,
In silver-shining armor starry-clear;
And o'er his head the holy vessel hung
Clothed in white samite or a luminous cloud.
And with exceeding swiftness ran the boat,
If boat it were — I saw not whence it came.
And then the heavens opened and blazed again
Roaring, I saw him like a silver star —
And had he set the sail, or had the boat
Become a living creature clad with wings?
And o'er his head the Holy Vessel hung
Redder than any rose, a joy to me,
For now I knew the veil had been withdrawn.
Then in a moment when they blazed again
Opening, I saw the least of little stars
Down on the waste, and straight beyond the star
I saw the spiritual city and all her spires
And gateways, in a glory like one pearl —
No larger, tho' the goal of all the saints —
Strike from the sea: and from the star there shot
A rose-red sparkle to the city, and there
Dwelt, and I knew it was the Holy Grail,
Which never eyes on earth again shall see."

In Lucifer, for Oct., 1888, Mr. Ashton Ellis had a fine article on the Parsifal of Wagner, whose hero is identical with Tennyson's Sir Percival. Speaking of the Holy Grail, Mr. Ellis says: "Is not this the Divine Wisdom of the ages, the theosophia which has been ever jealously-guarded by bands of brothers, and to which, in the words of the drama, there leads no path, nor can any one find it unless it guide his footsteps?" (as Sir Galahad was guided.). . . "Sought by no earthly paths, found by no course of learned study, set in a spot whence Time and Space have fled away, this is the eternal well of changeless truth." And as Mr. Ellis points out, "when the spirit of Love and divine Compassion has conquered the world, then the command shall be 'Unveil the Grail, open the shrine!'"

And so we come back to the teachings of that great, but grossly-misinterpreted soul, Rabelais, to find that his priestess also declares that the two things necessary to the pursuit of Divine Wisdom are the guidance of God and the love of man. The oracle of the Divine Bottle has but one word to say to the listening soul, — "Drink!"; but is not this one word equivalent to the saying of Jesus, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink"? Both oracles imply the same thing, an effort on the part of the applicant. The water of Wisdom is to be had for the asking; but that "asking" is not a mere formula; it is labor as well as prayer. "To reach Nirvana one must reach self knowledge," says the Voice of the Silence, "and self-knowledge is the child of loving deeds." Before a man can become a vessel of honor fit for the Master's use, he must have purified himself from all sin, and then the Divine Wisdom will fill his soul.

In studying the words of the seers upon the subject of Intuition, or Spiritual Wisdom, we must remember that the spirit has to do with things of the spirit, not with the concerns of every-day life. When Rabelais' hero first set out in search of the oracle, the question upon his lips related only to the advisability of marriage, but to such queries the oracle gave no response. When Laurence Oliphant felt that "intuition" bade him follow another man as a god, he mistook the nature of intuition, which is not active upon this plane and could take no cognisance of individuals. That is the property of instinct, and is but an extension of that faculty of the animal soul that we see developed to such an extent in the likes and dislikes of dogs, for instance. Give to Caesar the things which are Caesar's; do not expect the Divine Spirit to do your fortune-telling, or to direct your daily comings and goings.

There is another source of confusion, sometimes, in the fact that wisdom, or intuition, is spoken of in both an active and a passive sense, as a process and as the result of that process. So we may think of intuition as the clear light that shines in upon the soul and enables us to see truth, or we may think of it as the sense of vision by which we apprehend that truth. In the teachings of theosophy we speak of Buddhi as a passive principle, the vehicle of Atma, or as an active principle whose vehicle is Manas. All depends upon the point of view; upon whether we begin at the top or at the bottom of the scale. But though, in thinking of the prism, we may think of the yellow as following the green or preceding the orange, we cannot place it between the violet and the red. Instinct may guide the reason, but intuition enlightens the soul. For intuition is one with that Wisdom which is "privy to the mysteries of the Knowledge of God," and "in all ages entering into holy souls, she maketh them friends of God and prophets."


The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE