The Cathar Grail Quest Saga
Mythic Roots

“Tolkien…has rightly described the world of…myth and legend as being like a great branching tree: deeply rooted in the past…but branching out from the past into the present as each new generation absorbs the sap of the old tales and puts out branches, unfolds leaves—which are themselves new creations, new developments…adding to something which is still unfolding…” – Malcolm Guite.

Old Roots, New Shoots

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown presents a radical idea that challenges conventional beliefs: rather than being the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene’s womb that carried the bloodline of Christ. On the other hand, the TV series Stargate depicts Egypt’s ancient gods as aliens who wear helmets shaped like animal heads and wield advanced weapons to dominate humanity.

Speculative fiction empowers writers to revitalize a myth by altering, challenging, or elaborating on its traditional narrative. However, this could be an endeavor full of pitfalls. Tampering with well-known stories and their characters is bound to invite scrutiny, but by respecting source materials and incorporating original elements such as symbols, themes, archetypes, and plot points, it is possible to preserve a myth’s essence while introducing a fresh perspective.

Reshaping Myths

My Cathar Grail Quest Saga comprises two novels: Graëlfire and Graëlstorm. These books offer a modern take on the traditional Grail Quest genre, centered on a powerful artifact called a Graëlstone. According to its fictional backstory, medieval Templar Knights discovered this “Graël” in Jerusalem and then entrusted it to the French Cathars for safekeeping. Persecution forced some of the Cathars to flee France for Northern Italy and later to Switzerland, where the Graël lay hidden for centuries. The discovery of an enigmatic quatrain gave clues to its location, sparking a present-day quest with ties to a medieval subplot.

My aim was to connect Switzerland to the legend of the Holy Grail. To build credibility for this premise with readers, I blended historical facts with popular folklore surrounding the Grail, the Templars, and the Cathars. This involved tackling a series of questions:

1. A Stone with Supernatural Powers:

The most common depiction of the Holy Grail is as a cup from the Last Supper. Is there room to interpret it as a cosmic stone with supernatural powers?

The Holy Grail as a mystical object has been a popular theme in mythology for centuries. However, despite it being commonly portrayed as a Christian relic, there is no mention of the Grail anywhere in the bible; our lore comes from medieval writers of Arthurian legends about the adventures of King Arthur and his Round Table knights. While some of these tales depict the Grail as a shallow dish or as a cup used by Christ at the Last Supper, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s epic medieval poem Parzival presents it as a miracle-working stone that came from the heavens. These varying interpretations may have been inspired by earlier Celtic myths of magical cauldrons, and as there is no mention of the Grail in any religious texts, writers have creative freedom to imagine its true form. The Cathar Grail Quest Saga presents a unique interpretation: the search for a lost Graëlstone. These stones, colloquially known as Graëls, are the rarest matter in the Cosmos and are formed during the birth of multiple universes. They channel the primordial energy of Graëlfire, an all-pervasive force that is the source of all Creation. Graëls can be controlled through telepathy by a legion of Graëlheem Chosen, genetically modified human-like beings who possess superhuman willpower.

Viewing the Grail through the lens of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version as a celestial stone taps into an ancient pedigree. Belief in the supernatural power of stones or their status as sacred objects has existed for millennia. We can see evidence of it in the prevalence of standing stones in Neolithic ritual sites, the Buddhist belief in the wish-fulfilling Cintamani Stone, the divination stones said to be incorporated into the breastplate of the Hebrew high priest, Muslim veneration of the Black Stone at Mecca’s holy shrine, and the legendary Philosopher’s Stone rumoured to possess the power to turn ordinary metals into gold.

2. Found in Jerusalem; Brought to Europe

Are there grounds to suggest that the Knights Templar may have found the Grail in Jerusalem and brought it to Europe?

The Templars had both the means and the opportunity to make such a discovery. This Christian military order of monks was founded in Jerusalem in 1191 during the Crusades. Known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, it took its full name from its headquarters on the Temple Mount and became one of the wealthiest organizations in the world. Despite lack of evidence that they excavated underground, speculation and conspiracy theories abound about lost Templar treasures allegedly discovered in the Holy Land. Such artifacts range from the Holy Grail to the Turin Shroud, the Spear of Destiny, and even the legendary Ark of the Covenant. The idea of the Templars or similar secret societies being guardians of the Grail goes as far back as von Eschenbach’s Parzival and has inspired numerous books and films, including The Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This blend of real and mythical elements provides the speculative foundation for my novel’s premise. Moreover, legend says that when Muslim forces ousted the Templars from Jerusalem in the late 12th century, the Templars took their treasures with them to Europe, adding another layer of intrigue to the backstory I imagined.

3. Cathars as Custodians of the Grail:

Is it logical that the Templars would have entrusted such a precious relic to a heretical sect like the Cathars?

The idea of the Cathars being custodians of the Grail stems from a myth popularized in the twentieth century by writers like the German occultist and researcher Otto Rahn. Although lacking corroboration, it gained traction in esoteric circles, and is often associated with the Nazi’s occult quest for supernatural power. This is portrayed in films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indiana Jones must find the Holy Grail to prevent the Nazis from harnessing its power, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indy goes on a mission to find the Ark of the Covenant before it falls into Nazi hands. But why would the Templars, being a Christian order, entrust such a precious relic to a group that the Church considered heretical? One plausible explanation is that the Templars were exposed to Cathar beliefs and grew to admire them. Both groups coexisted and shared a connection through their association with the Counts of Toulouse. Most French Cathars resided in the region of Toulouse, whose counts were known for their tolerance and sympathy towards them. The Counts of Toulouse also took part in various crusades, and became rulers of the County of Tripoli in the Levant, where the Templars had established a base after the First Crusade. This could have created an opportunity for the sharing of ideas, leading to the possibility that some Templars may have embraced aspects of Cathar heretical belief. Could it be that a Templar knight brought the Grail to Toulouse and entrusted it to the Cathars for safekeeping? After all, the Cathar spiritual elite were renowned for their honesty and moral virtue, unlike the Catholic clergy, who had a reputation for greed and corruption. Even though there is no clear evidence linking Cathars and Templars, there persists to this day an air of mystery surrounding a potential connection. The Church’s accusations of heresy against both movements and their subsequent persecution only fuel the speculation.

However, my research into Cathar dogma challenged the idea that they would be willing custodians of the Grail. Their Gnostic creed centered around a belief in two gods: one being the true god of the spiritual realm who the New Testament portrayed as pure and benevolent, while the other was the pitiless evil pretender described in the Old Testament as the creator of the material world. Because of the incompatibility between the two, Cathars saw all matter as the embodiment of evil. How could they then venerate a physical object like the Graëlstone? A plausible explanation is that they did not revere the stone itself, but rather the power of the Holy Spirit that they mistakenly believed was channeled through it. After all, Cathar holy men and women were made of corrupt flesh, and yet their followers venerated them as vessels of the Holy Spirit. Such an idea would not only support Cathar involvement in my backstory, but also their resolve to keep the Grail away from a Catholic Church they saw as a malevolent creation.

4. Escape Italy then to Switzerland:

Is it rational to assume that during persecution in Languedoc, Cathar refugees would move the Grail from France to Italy for safekeeping? And when persecution extended to Italy, is it logical they would transport it to Switzerland?

This scenario is not only possible but is grounded in historical fact. Cathars had thriving communities in two areas of Western Europe: Toulouse in Languedoc and Lombardy in northern Italy, a region located on the opposite side of the Alps from Switzerland. When faced with persecution by the Inquisition in France, many Cathars sought refuge in Lombardy under protection of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. At that time, he was engaged in a power struggle with the Pope and refused to allow Inquisitors into his territories surrounding the Papal States. For a while, Northern Italy offered a haven to Cathar refugees, and it makes sense that if they had the Grail in their possession, they would have taken it with them as they fled Toulouse. Then, as persecution later spread to Italian Cathars, some may have sought safety for it in the high alpine valleys on Italy’s border with Switzerland. Evidence from historical records supports the idea of persecuted groups seeking shelter in the Alps, and it is logical that as the Inquisition closed in, they might have resumed their flight along established trade routes over mountain passes into Switzerland.

The Cathar Grail Quest Saga

Using this combination of historical fact and popular myths, I constructed a tale that weaves together two intertwined stories set in the present-day and the medieval era. This narrative is influenced by Arthurian Grail Quest literature written in the Middle Ages by authors such as Chrétien de Troyes, Robert Boron, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Thomas Malory. These classics combine elements of romance, adventure, and spiritual growth with themes of faith, purity, and personal transformation attained through acts of self-sacrifice. While those works were written for medieval readers, my Cathar Grail Quest Saga puts a modern twist on the legend and infuses them with otherworldly aspects inspired by Gnostic creation myth. However, I made sure my retelling preserved the essence of traditional Arthurian Grail mythology:

  • A quest for a lost artifact with awe-inspiring properties.
  • A Camelot-style citadel beyond our universe garrisoned by a legion of Graëlheem “knights” commanded by a feudalistic ruler.
  • A liminal, cunning, and otherworldly trickster figure akin to Merlin.
  • A wounded Fisher King symbol who guards the secret of the lost Grail’s whereabouts.
  • A Lancelot-esque hero turned antihero who sought the Grail but was prevented by the sin of his forbidden love.
  • A chosen seeker of the Grail who, like Galahad, is the only one pure enough to attain it.

While drawing inspiration from Arthurian legends and Gnostic myths, the plot, characters, and world of The Cathar Grail Quest Saga are my own imagination. I see this as contributing to an ever-evolving tradition of mythmaking. By incorporating familiar themes and archetypes from the original stories, I hope my modern reinterpretation will resonate with readers.

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