From Ritual to Romance


In the introductory Chapter the reader will find the aim and object of these studies set forth at length. In view of the importance and complexity of the problems involved it seemed better to incorporate such a statement in the book itself, rather than relegate it to a Preface which all might not trouble to read. Yet I feel that such a general statement does not adequately express my full debt of obligation.

Among the many whose labour has been laid under contribution in the following pages there are certain scholars whose published work, or personal advice, has been specially illuminating, and to whom specific acknowledgment is therefore due. Like many others I owe to Sir J. G. Frazer the initial inspiration which set me, as I may truly say, on the road to the Grail Castle. Without the guidance of The Golden Bough I should probably, as the late M. Gaston Paris happily expressed it, still be wandering in the forest of Broceliande!

During the Bayreuth Festival of 1911 I had frequent opportunities of meeting, and discussion with, Professor von Schroeder. I owe to him not only the introduction to his own work, which I found most helpful, but references which have been of the greatest assistance; e.g. my knowledge of Cumont's Les Religions Orientales, and Scheftelowitz's valuable study on Fish Symbolism, both of which have furnished important links in the chain of evidence, is due to Professor von Schroeder.

The perusal of Miss J. E. Harrison's Themis opened my eyes to the extended importance of these Vegetation rites. In view of the evidence there adduced I asked myself whether beliefs which had found expression not only in social institution, and popular custom, but, as set forth in Sir G. Murray's study on Greek Dramatic Origins, attached to the work, also in Drama and Literature, might not reasonably--even inevitably--be expected to have left their mark on Romance? The one seemed to me a necessary corollary of the other, and I felt that I had gained, as the result of Miss Harrison's work, a wider, and more assured basis for my own researches. I was no longer engaged merely in enquiring into the sources of a fascinating legend, but on the identification of another field of activity for forces whose potency as agents of evolution we were only now beginning rightly to appreciate.

Finally, a casual reference, in Anrich's work on the Mysteries, to the Naassene Document, caused me to apply to Mr G. R. S. Mead, of whose knowledge of the mysterious border-land between Christianity and Paganism, and willingness to place that knowledge at the disposal of others, I had, for some years past, had pleasant experience. Mr Mead referred me to his own translation and analysis of the text in question, and there, to my satisfaction, I found, not only the final link that completed the chain of evolution from Pagan Mystery to Christian Ceremonial, but also proof of that wider significance I was beginning to apprehend. The problem involved was not one of Folk-lore, not even one of Literature, but of Comparative Religion in its widest sense.

Thus, while I trust that my co-workers in the field of Arthurian research will accept these studies as a permanent contribution to the elucidation of the Grail problem, I would fain hope that those scholars who labour in a wider field, and to whose works I owe so much, may find in the results here set forth elements that may prove of real value in the study of the evolution of religious belief.


J. L. W.   

          October, 1919

"Animus ad amplitudinem Mysteriorum pro modulo suo dilatetur, non Mysteria ad angustias animi constringantur." (Bacon.)

"Many literary critics seem to think that an hypothesis about obscure and remote questions of history can be refuted by a simple demand for the production of more evidence that in fact exists.--But the true test of an hypothesis, if it cannot be shewn to conflict with known truths, is the number of facts that it correlates, and explains." (Cornford, Origins of Attic Comedy.)

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