Campbell graduated from Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut in 1921. On a crossing of the North Atlantic in 1924, he met Jiddu Krishnamurti, not yet the great world teacher of the Theosophists. This friendship led to a deep interest in the traditions of India. Campbell received his B.A. in English from Columbia University in 1925. He completed his M.A. in Medieval Literature in 1926 with a thesis on The Dolorous Stroke, the origin of the Wasteland symbolism in the Grail legends. His advisor was Roger Loomis, a leading Arthurian scholar.
Returning to Columbia University, Campbell wanted to expand the scope of his dissertation topic beyond the Grail myth to include parallels with psychology, literature, and art. His advisors made it clear that such an interdisciplinary perspective would not be acceptable.
By the eighth century, the time of Charles the Great, Rome had established her death grip on the religious community, and Charles, out of guilt, or through the trickery of the Pope, allowed himself to accept the Imperial Throne from the hands of the Patriarch of Rome. The fraudulent Donation of Constantine, which supported the temporal power of the Church, clinched the situation. From that point on, Rome was locked in a desperate struggle against the various gnostic survivals, some of whose claim to be the real “Church” was considerably better than Rome’s. To admit any other claim was to lose the position of defender of orthodoxy; for if there were many churches, than Rome was not THE church, catholic and universal.
Wolfram says that to know the Grail you must “learn your ABC’s without the aid of black magic.” Robert de Borron’s Joseph is quite explicit. The mystery of the Grail is the inner teaching. Jesus taught Joseph strange words to vibrate over the cup that held the holy blood. This attempt to clear away the underbrush of the Grail texts has shown that the source of the Grail is that strange mixture of Celtic and Christian beliefs that developed in the west of England and Ireland before the Empire crumbled. It was defended by Arthur, and almost brought by him on to the stage of European history at just that juncture when the politics of the Empire would have allowed a completely new direction, a completely new version based on the inner teaching of the Christian mysteries.
The image of the Grail, though, did not fade away. The Matter of Britain still retained its popularity, though without the spiritual overtones. The spiritual current went underground, surfacing in the Renaissance, and then again in the Rosecrucians, and again in the nineteenth century.
The pattern is clear. Around the turn of the thirteenth century, the Grail Romances offered a direct challenge to the authority of Rome, one that Rome could not answer for fear of exposing her own shaky position. Innocent III felt strong enough, after the fall of Constantinople, to turn the iron grip of Christian chivalry on the most exposed and concentrated group of heretics hoping to quiet the lot of them. Indeed, the fear and horror of the Cathar Crusade did put the fear of the Pope back into the hearts of Christians everywhere.
Clearly, the Grail had a specific significance for those who listened so avidly to these stories of wonder and marvel. The grail’s significance is simply its connection with the Holy Family. The Grail suggests in the strongest possible terms that another route to salvation — one that had nothing to do with the Church of Rome — was available around the turn of the thirteenth century.
The Cathars became scapegoats for the whole underground current of Celtic/Grail/Gnostic Christian survivals. It seems to have worked. For by 1220, around the time the first wave of anti-cathar crusading was winding down, Grail Romances were falling out of favor. Other than Malory, whose rendition of Walter de Mapp’s 1220 Queste de Saint Greal has become our story book Grail, there is only the “Elucidation” of Chretien by an anonymous author. This is a half hearted attempt to give another explanation for all these mystical goings on. It is unsuccessful and is often not included in the Grail texts.
The author of The Quest of the Holy Grail intends for the story to be more than just entertainment: the knights' search for the Holy Grail is analogous to the pursuit of morality and spiritual chivalry, showing success through asceticism, confession, chastity, and faith....
In the Grail, we see, even at this late date, the radiant quality of that early church. The importance of the Grail, for us now, as we plunge into the next cycle of spiritual evolution, lies in its symbolic nature. Within the Grail can be found a synthesis of all western mystical and magical traditions. It is the source of that underground stream of meaning that flows through the occult and esoteric teachings of the last two thousand years.
There is a certain murkiness to this story, perhaps as a result of trying to tell the important part (for those with ears to hear) and still stay within certain defined limits that would allow the Roman Church to ignore the tale. Things had changed by 1200. A powerful Pope, Innocent III, had regained the upper hand in his struggles with the Holy Roman Empire and began to turn his attention to unifying the whole world under his spiritual rule. By the grace of God, of course.
Around 1200, Robert de Borron, following the popularity of the continuations of Chretein, produced Joseph of Arimathea, the prequel to the series the ties it all very neatly into the Celtic Church. He reveals the themes of a hidden or inner teaching given to Joseph after Christ’s resurrection. These teachings appear to center around the Grail, here called a Chalice, and consitute the heart of the “mysteries.” Mention is also made of a journey westward, to the “Vale of Avaron (Avalon?)” and provision is made for the future hero, Percival, who will fulfill the Quest.
At any rate, it is not hard to see the glimmers of this earlier and more spiritual form of Christianity as the undercurrent of ideas that emerged as Chretien’s “graal.” The connection is never made directly, accept in the later romances, but the Matter of Britain was basically a front for the Celtic Church. In this seemingly secular form, the spiritual motiffs of a truly gnostic Christianity emerged in the intellectual current of the age. The Roman Church neither encouraged nor discouraged the Grail Romances, even though it was obvious that an earlier and possibly heretical form of Christianity was being represented. As we shall see, the Church was not above persecuting heretics, but there was absolutely no attempt to discredit the Grail stories.