Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition, by Mara Freeman
Reviewed by Karl Schlotterbeck, MA, CAS, LP
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In her Grail Alchemy, Mara Freeman tracks appearances of the grail archetype through history and across the world, and relates it to the appearance, disappearance and re-appearance of the divine feminine. This is not just a historical survey, but also a personal one: she leads us toward a quest of becoming the Grail, i.e., achieving full consciousness of the soul. Throughout the work are texts of “Vision Journeys” for the reader to interact with inner images and eventually to build an astral temple for the work. A link is also provided to mp3 files where one can purchase the Vision Journeys. (These recorded journeys are excellently done. Her beautiful voice is accompanied by music and sounds that perfectly support the narration.) She insightfully interprets various mythological stories as forms of initiation, and the Nine Maidens as “primal creator goddesses” that are “continually giving birth to the world of form.”
In a section called “The Dance of Life” she makes a distinction between many forms of Eastern tradition that seek to transcend our earthly existence, whereas the Western tradition for which she speaks calls for balancing opposites and remaining engaged with the world. She notes that the cup and branch of the earlier Celtic mythology evolved into the Grail and Sword, and Stone and Sword of the Arthurian cycle.
She nicely gives larger meaning to elements of the Arthurian cycle, revealing the Round Table as a reference to the solar system, Guinevere as a representative of the Goddess of the Land whereby Arthur’s marriage to her qualifies him to assume his role. She also redeems the image of Ireland’s Queen Medb as a Goddess of the Land rather than just a promiscuous and competitive queen.
Bringing the mythology alive and into the present, she asserts that the awakening of the buried King Arthur depends on our awakening from our “deadly sleep of materialism.” Indeed, the Fisher King has become wounded because of the imbalanced relationship with the Earth and the Feminine. The purpose of the Grail questions, in their various forms, that must be asked to keep it from disappearing, is about bringing the Western wounds – and our wounds – into consciousness. Our global crisis, she asserts, is from “denying the divine presence of the feminine both in the natural world and within ourselves, of valuing the Sword above the Grail.” She notes the role that mainstream Christianity has played in devaluing the feminine. In fact, she references the quest epitomized by Perceval as a search “search of the collective Western psyche for the lost feminine. . .”
She calls attention to the correspondence of Grail stories’ objects of power – bleeding spear, silver platter, grail and sword –to the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann celebrated by Keltrians.
After this expansive multicultural survey of correspondences and meaning, she begins about halfway through to narrow her focus to Glastonbury and the British magical tradition. In addition, she describes the way some pre-existing features of Grail mythology became Christianized, particularly around Glastonbury. (On the other hand, it could be seen as the returning Christian iconography to its Pagan origins.) She introduces concepts of esoteric Christianity (as found in Theosophical and Rosicrucian thought of the 19th and 20th centuries) with the Christ as separate from a specific human being and the idea that, out the marriage of soul and Spirit, the potentially divine in each of us may be birthed.
When she introduces alchemy, she does so with a partial history, but makes useful notes of correspondences between the seven metals and seven known planets of the time, and other elements that appear as red and white, King and Queen, sun and moon, and the red and white springs at Glastonbury. She notes that the alchemical stages of nigredo, albedo and rubedo correspond to stages of spiritual awakening and relates them to similar concepts in Buddhism, Christianity and Yoga.
As she draws increasing focus on Glastonbury, its 20th century history and the work of Dion Fortune and her organization, she makes note of its red and white springs. She takes further significance from the vesica piscis of the Grail Spring cover, various poems, and symbols of the rose-cross, rose and grail, yin and yang, and the caduceus of both Osiris and Hermes. Scholarship gives way to prophetic assertions that the Cross – a symbol of duality and suffering – can give way to the Chalice as a more appropriate symbol of our time, indicating unity and joy.
One becomes a Grail Bearer, she writes, by aligning oneself with the Higher Self on a daily basis. In addition, the one might align oneself with a stream of magical tradition, create an inner Temple of the Grail, and engage in a dedication rite provided in the last chapter. She makes reference to her own Avalon Mystery School that one might access for further instruction and exploration.
Thus, this is a work that is scholarly, prophetic, inspiring and visionary and, although it may narrow into a particular orientation, she provides a foundation of inner exploration, ritual and possibilities for further study that can support individuals in their personal evolution. Furthermore, she enriches some of the elements of our own Keltrian mythology and deepens their meaning, as well as restores some of the deeper foundations shared by both Pagan and Christian mythologies. She artfully places the Cosmic Christ in a position outside of the conflict between the parochial, narrow imagery of both Christianity and that of the Pagan world.
(I should note that there is a significant typographical error on page 111 where the word “proscribed” is used in place of the word prescribed, referring to one’s withdrawal from the world late in life to focus on spiritual matters – a common Eastern tradition.)
Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition
by Mara Freeman (Author)
Kindle & Paperback editions available
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Destiny Books; Original edition (January 24, 2014)