Holy Grail

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Galahad, Bors and Parzival receive the Grail. Tapestry by William Morris (19th century)

The legend of the Holy Grail appears in many forms in the late 12th century in medieval narrative literature surrounding the Arthurian legend. Its spiritual background is the Grail-Imagination described by Rudolf Steiner, which is revealed through the spiritual retrospection of the etheric body of the human being. In a conversation with Johanna Countess Keyserlingk that has come down to us, Steiner also shows the connection between the Grail Castle and the New Jerusalem described as a vision of the future in the Apocalypse of John: The Grail Castle really exists in the ethereal world. The New Jerusalem is the archetype of how it will be in the future.[1]

The origin of the word Grail is not entirely clear: the most probable derivation is from Occitan grazal, Old French graal "vessel, bowl", which probably goes back etymologically to Greekκρατήρ krater "mixing vessel" (via Latin cratalis/gradalis). In Old Spanish, grial is a common term for a mortar or a mortar-shaped drinking vessel, as is gral in Old Portuguese.

The spiritual background of the Grail legend


Seventh Apocalyptic Seal: the New Jerusalem.

„That was the one: Arthur. The other is: the castle of the Holy Grail [...] It is said that the Holy Grail is the bowl in which the Christ Jesus once took communion, the wine, with his disciples and with which his blood was later taken. Then the lance with which Jesus' side was pierced was also brought to Europe. The Grail bowl is located on Montsalvatsch, where a holy castle was built. The Holy Grail has the ability to grant eternal youth, the power of eternal life in general, to those who are familiar with its miracles, who live with its sun of grace.

Again, there are twelve, but now Christian, spiritual knights. The ancient Knights Templar guarded the Holy Grail, and the powers they drew from this guard they used to pour over Europe the spiritual chivalry of the heart, of the inner life. Thus, the white lodge of secular chivalry, which was moved to Wales, was opposed by spiritual chivalry in the castle of the Holy Grail, situated on the Spanish mountain of Montsalvatsch.

What was the task of the knights who were in the castle of the Holy Grail? The task of the Knights of the Holy Grail was not to conquer, not to gain external possessions, not to appropriate lands; their task was to conquer the life of the soul. If we are told of the hoard of the Nibelungs, of gold as the symbol of possession, as the goal of the Nibelungs' striving, then the Holy Grail is the spiritualised hoard of the Nibelungs, the treasure of the soul. What is the power that emanates from the Holy Grail in reality? What do those twelve knights work who are united in its castle? As is often emphasised in the theosophical world view, a spark of the divine lives in every human being [...] To develop this divine spark more and more, in order to bring the human being up into the higher worlds, that is what was striven for in the initiation of ancient paganism. This is now striven for in a new way within the Christian world [...].

Christianity was supposed to bring an initiation that took place only in the deepest interior, in the veiled sanctuary of the soul. There the God was to be sought, the God who had brought salvation to Christendom through the shedding of his blood; this God was to be found by each individual man in his own soul [...] The Holy Grail was nothing other than the deepest interior of human nature, and it was a unitary thing, because the inner human nature is a unitary one, because a life spent in the pursuit of wisdom awakens the hope that one might understand what is meant by the great unity, by the great divine spark.

They were there as the brothers of the Holy Grail. Parzival wanted to find the way to the Holy Grail. Now the legend tells us that when he went to the Holy Grail, he found the then King Amfortas bleeding. He had been told not to ask much and nothing wrong. So he did not ask about the king's wounds and did not ask about the meaning of the Grail. That is why he is cast out. He should ask about the properties of the Holy Grail and the wounds of the King. That is one of the experiences to be had in the divine life, that one must ask about it. He must have the longing for it. It is there, the Holy Grail; it can be found, it will be given to everyone, but it does not impose itself. It does not come to us, we must feel in the soul the urge for this Holy Grail, the inner sanctuary, the divine spark of life in the human soul. We must have the urge to ask for it. When the human soul has found its way up to God, then the God descends to it. That is the secret of the Grail itself, the descent of the God who descends when man evolves up to the Divine. This is depicted as it is attached to the baptism of Jesus by John: a dove descended and settled on the head, and a voice from heaven said, "This is my much beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Holy Grail is symbolised in the form of a dove.

On his first visit to the Grail Castle, Parzival was not yet mature enough to go through what we have just described. When he felt pushed out, something came into his soul that must come into every soul at some time or other if it is to become truly mature for the last stages of knowledge. Doubt, unbelief and inner spiritual darkness enter the soul of Parzival. Certainly, he who wants to ascend to knowledge must once go through the hard school of doubt. Only when one has doubted and gone through the torments and all that can be brought about by doubts, only when one has gone through it, has one gained that certainty within oneself that knowledge will never again be lost to one. It is an evil brother, doubt, but a purifying, a purifying brother. Parzival is now going through this doubt, and he struggles through to a realisation that consists of something other than what is usually called understanding or reason. To a knowledge that Richard Wagner expressed with grandiose accuracy, perhaps not quite philosophically or psychologically correct, but in spirit, calling Parzival the "pure fool" who becomes knowledgeable through compassion.“ (Lit.:GA 54, p. 438ff)

The Grail-Imagination

Main article: Grail-Imagination

The Grail-Imagination forms the spiritual source of the tales of the Holy Grail. It reveals itself, as indicated above, through the spiritual retrospection of the etheric body. When the human being is asleep, the I and the astral body partially lift themselves out of the human organisation, leaving the etheric body and the physical body behind. The human consciousness thereby dims to that of dreamless sleep. If, however, consciousness can be maintained through appropriate spiritual training, the physical body left behind is transformed before the spiritual gaze into the Paradise-Imagination. Subsequently, the spiritual vision of the etheric body condenses into the Grail-Imagination.

The Holy Grail and the Jewel from Lucifer's Crown

From the precious stone which fell from the crown of Lucifer, and which in a certain sense is nothing else than the full power of the human I, became the Holy Grail.

„A wonderful, glorious legend of humanity speaks of the fact that when Lucifer fell down from heaven to earth, a precious stone fell from his crown. From this precious stone - so the legend tells us - was made that vessel in which the Christ Jesus took supper with his disciples; that vessel in which was caught the blood of Christ which flowed from the cross; that vessel which was brought by Angels into the Western world and is received in the Western world by those who wish to advance to the true understanding of the Christ-principle. It became the Holy Grail from the stone that fell from the crown of Lucifer.

What is the Holy Grail? You all know that man, as he is today, has four members, the physical, the etheric, the astral body and the I. That this I, in the course of human progress, must advance towards a perfection which fills it more and more, that it must rise higher and higher.

Lucifer, the fallen one who ruled in the Orient, lost the precious stone from his crown; that precious stone is, in a certain sense, nothing other than the full power of the human I. This human I must first be prepared in the darkness in order to see the star of Lucifer shining in a new and worthy way within the light of Christ. This I had to train itself up to the Christ-principle, to mature into the precious stone which no longer belongs to Lucifer, which has fallen from his crown; that is to say, it had to mature through wisdom, in order to have again the ability to bear the light which does not flow to us from without, but which shines upon us when we ourselves can do what is necessary for it. Thus spiritual-scientific work is work on the human I in order to make it into a vessel which in turn is capable of receiving the light which is there where today for the outer eyes, for the outer human intellect, there is darkness and night. An old legend says that night was the original ruler. But this night is there again; it is in everything that is filled with darkness today. But let us fill ourselves with that light which can dawn upon us when we understand the star which the light-bearer, the other spirit, Lucifer has lost; then that night becomes day to us. The eyes cease to look when the outer light does not illuminate the objects; the intellect fails when it is a question of penetrating behind the outer nature of things; the star that becomes us when clear and well-meaning research speaks at the same time, that illuminates for us what is only apparently night, makes it day for us. But this is also what takes from us all deadening and paralysing doubts.“ (Lit.:GA 113, p. 21f)


Main article: Titurel

Titurel is, also according to the Titurel fragment preserved by Wolfram von Eschenbach, the progenitor of the guardians of the Grail, but already at the beginning of the narrative he hands over the rule of the Grail to his son Frimutel and then does not appear again. Wolfram's fragments tell the love story of Sigune and Schionatulander in stanza form, the tragic end of which can then be found in Wolfram's Parzival. The "Younger Titurel", written around 1270 by Albrecht von Scharfenberg, with over 6300 seven-line stanzas ("Titurelstrophe"), brings an extensive expansion of the theme and already links it to the Lohengrin saga and Prester John, the legendary Christian patriarch, presbyter, and king. Albrecht wrote the epic in Wolfram's mask and only reveals himself as "Albrecht" in the 5883rd stanza.

According to Rudolf Steiner, Titurel was a high initiate and also inspired the legend of Floris and Blancheflour, which is significant for the Rosicrucian initiation. The spiritual disciples initiated by Titurel were all called "Parzival" in a certain sense.

„The saga of the Holy Grail says that the bowl with the collected blood of Golgotha is brought to Europe by Angels. Titurel receives this bowl. He receives it floating above the European lands, and only after centuries did Titurel descend with it from spiritual heights to earth and found the mystery site of the Holy Grail on the Mountain of Salvation (Montsalvat). He could only do this after some people were ripe to receive the secret of the Grail. Anyone who was ready for this initiation was called a Parzival.

Charlemagne, who came from the Orient - he was the re-embodiment of a high Indian adept - was an instrument of the spiritual individuality symbolised by the name Titurel. Floris and Blancheflur, called Rose and Lily, are called Charlemagne's parents in spiritual relation. They stood acting above this mystery.[2]

A "Parzival" had purified his soul of all earthly desires and self-seeking by long meditations and concentrations. He was a Cathar and as such came to King Titurel. By exerting all the powers he had acquired through the long exercises, he succeeded in bringing out his higher self. He stood face to face with himself.“ (Lit.:GA 266a, p. 506f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Koberwitz 1924. Geburtsstunde einer neuen Landwirtschaft, edited by Adalbert Count Keyserlingk, Verlag Hilfswerk Elisabeth, Stuttgart 1974, p. 82
  2. Another record notes here: "They effectively presided over the mysteries into which Parzival later penetrated."