Unfortunately, a deeper read into the grail literature did not deepen my confidence in the Christian theory. For one there was Chrétien and his famous grail story, Le Conte de Graal. His insistence on odd details like a head on a platter, the maimed king, and his explanation that the king had been injured by the grail of Longinus struck me as either having a depth that was not explained properly or had not been understood by the author. The grail, too, seemed wrongly described. It is of silver and is called a platter whereas the grail is supposed to be either the cup he used at the last supper (given his surroundings it would be of wood or clay) or, in grail lore, the vessel into which he bled while on the cross.
Other writers were of no help. Wolfram von Eschenbach was Chrétien’s contemporary and therefore would have had access to the same sources as Chrétien, yet he describes the grail as a black rock. The Continuators of Chrétien go on and on about the adventures leading up to a return to the grail castle but explain nothing more about the grail or the castle. Diu Crône, a German of the next century, presents the same problems. The Vulgate, Malory, and later works only grow progressively more confusing in their internal inconsistencies and their variations with each other.
And then there was Peredur. Said to be a Welsh version of Chrétien’s Le Conte du Graal, it has almost nothing in common with its French counterpart. And at the end of the story the hero comes across a group of witches working around a cauldron who attack him on sight. At his moment of peril, Gwalchmai and Arthur’s other warriors come in and kill all of the witches. This is treated as the climax of the story and Peredur is hailed as a hero. One must ask what is going on.
Further education on the nature of Celtic literary instruction offered an explanation that seemed to satisfy the questions a Christian approach presented. During the course of their education, bards were taught hundreds if not thousands of tales, but in conjunction with the core stories they were also asked to learn an even greater number of motifs and techniques. These were to be used personalizing each performance for each particular audience or setting.
And things began to fall in place. I admit to feeling like Roger Sherman Loomis with his wide grasp of Celtic culture and ability to draw answers from the body of Celtic myth. The reason the grail castle is in different places, why Perceval goes on so many entirely different quests for the same object, and the entire contents of Peredur could be explained if it was just assumed that the bards had known of a story involving a hero and a few basic points but not much about his exploits. He would naturally have been connected to the most famous of the British kings – Arthur. The Wise Fool seems to be the main theme in all variations. The odd question Perceval is to ask reminds one of the cup ceremony as first noted in a myth about Conn and the original high-king. The head, being a part of Celtic culture, makes sense. So does the variety of mutually exclusive details – each author was taking the materials that had been passed to him, materials a bard might have given an intermediary during the course of one particular performance. For the Celts with their concept of oral storytelling, the details were always fluid. But for the continentals the entire story was set in stone. My view had been as well, I’d expected one clear and easy story to emerge from all the different authors where there was instead only some scattered portions of the plot and a few odd details that were consistent.