From Ritual to Romance

An Introduction to From Ritual to Romance

From Ritual to Romance was written by Jesse L(aidlay) Weston (1850-1928) and first published in 1920 by the Cambridge University Press. This work is now in the public domain in the United States.


This book will be of interest to those who want to study ancient religion, mythology, Arthurian legend and T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land.

Weston examines the story of the Holy Grail looking at Celtic and Christian legends, and explores what she believes are its Gnostic roots. She views the Grail romances as a literary evolution from ancient rituals (whence the book's title).

Some of the scholarship may be outdated since its original publication was 1920.'s book review for From Ritual to Romance includes this statement by

"Though Weston's style is British, academic, and the length of her immaculately grammatical sentences would put Faulkner to shame, the information is riveting (and makes one wonder how modern filmmakers of the Arthurian genre managed to research their stories and miss so much good stuff...)."

From Ritual to Romance and The Waste Land

One group with a big interest in this book is those who study (or are forced to study) T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land.

In The Waste Land, Eliot acknowledges a debt to Jessie L. Weston's From Ritual to Romance and to Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough. (In the preface to her work Weston also announces that she started her research after reading Frazer's The Golden Bough.)

Eliot supplied the following as his first note to The Waste Land

"Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies."

In his note for Part V of The Waste Land (What the Thunder Said) Eliot wrote:

"In the first part of Part V three themes are employed: the journey to Emmaus, the approach to the Chapel Perilous (see Miss Weston's book), and the present decay of eastern Europe."

For his note for line 424 Eliot had:

"V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; chapter on the Fisher King."

In his note for line 46 Eliot wrote this note about Tarot cards:

"I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V. The Phoenician Sailor and the Merchant appear later; also the "crowds of people," and Death by Water is executed in Part IV. The Man with Three Staves (an authentic member of the Tarot pack) I associate, quite arbitrarily, with the Fisher King himself."

In Chapter VI of From Ritual to Romance (entitled The Symbols) Weston has a few pages discussing the Tarot deck and the symbols of the Grail legend. Eliot almost assuredly must have read this section.

This page provided for The Celtic Twilight by Rickard A. Parker.