Perceval (Percival, Parsifal)

   Perceval or Peredur may be a later addition to Arthur's legend, an integration of the stories of Peredur of Gales or Peredur of York. If we assume a fifth or early sixth century Arthur, then the possibility of Perceval or Peredur being later integrated is raised, as Peredur ruled the York area from the 560-580 period, dying in the early struggles against the growing power of the Angles of Bernicia. He was also involved in the Battle of Arderydd in 573 CE, where the pagan king Gwenddolau was killed and the Scottish Merlin, Myrddin ab Morvryn, went insane.

   R.J. O'Toole states "I think the greatest indication that Chretien had a British source is that he has gotten so much right." According to both Chrétien and the Peredur tales, our hero was raised in a remote, mountainous, wooded area described as 'getting too much rain for good crops' by a doting mother after the death of his father and brothers. His dress and manner's are crude and ignorant, a foolish "Welshman". The mountains of Cumbria, to the south of Carlisle, long a stronghold of the Cymry, receive the highest rainfall in Britain.
   One day, Percival meets five knights in the wood and learns that he can be knighted if he goes to see Arthur. He rides for two days (the correct distance to reach Carlisle). On the way, he learns that Arthur has just defeated King Rion of the Isles. He arrives at Arthur's castle overlooking the sea (Carlisle). Percival arrives at Arthur's court to see the Red Knight steal a cup from Guenivere. He gives chase, defeats the Red Knight and takes his armor. He sends the cup back and "...goes riding on and on through the forest until he reaches a flat stretch of country by a river that was wider than a crossbow could shoot and all of whose water was channeled and restricted to its proper bed. He rides down through a meadow towards the great, roaring river. But he did not go into the water because he saw how very dark and swift flowing it was and far deeper than the Loire. So he follows the bank along past a huge outcrop of rock on the far side of the river, whose waters beat against its foot. On that rock, situated on a slope that ran down towards the sea, was a magnificent, strong castle." As R.J. O'Toole in his discussion of Percival's British roots states, "The route has been consistent and realistic.  Percival started out in Cumbria, two days south of Carlisle, traveled to Carlisle, and now he has gone north to the Clyde river, across from the fortress on the Rock of Clyde, Alclyd, or Dumbarton." My own feelings are that Percival did not travel all the way to Dumbarton but merely down and around the coastline to Caerlaverock.
   When Percival reaches the Grail Castle he is treated to a ceremony hosted by a man who had been wounded in the thigh. The ceremony has a mix of characteristics, part Passover feast, part mystical ceremony, and as pointed out by some, characteristics of the coronation ceremonies actually practiced in the Hebrides and other northern areas. In 1630, Munro set down the ancient ceremony used in the coronation of the Lords of the Isles: "Then he was to receive a white rod in his hand, intimating that he had power to rule, not with tyranny and partiality, but with discretion and sincerity. Then he received his forefathers' sword, or some other sword, signifying that his duty was to protect and defend them from the incursions of their enemies in peace or war ..." Percival receives a sword from his host and it could be possibly construed that the blood dripping 'white' lance is a merger of the white rod of power and the link to the murder of his father and kinsmen who must be avenged. In this early form of the tale, the grail is not the cup of Christ but a large platter. In the Peredur story, it holds the head of a kinsman. By not asking concerning 'the lance', he does not receive the 'white rod' and take up his role as avenger and rightful king. While there is no bowl mentioned in the coronation ceremony, they were often used. When landowners in the Hebrides took possession of their land, the ceremony often included a bowl of earth carried by a woman representing sovereignty. Old King Cole had both a pipe (rod) and a bowl (cup) as his symbols of authority.

more to come...

Percyvelle of Galles