The Holy Grail is a mythical cup which confers eternal youth to whoever drinks from it. The knights of the round table of Arthurian legend are sent out on a quest to find it, as it is the only thing that can heal the stricken king.
What is the Holy Grail?
It is a cup filled with the blood of Christ, which is the spirit of God (some might say, filled with an entheogenic elixir). In Kabbalah, this “saving cup” is the Kli, the spiritual vessel for the divine light. In Christianity, it is the body of Christ, the Word made flesh, containing the spirit of Christ, the eternal Logos.
If we can’t stand the power of this spirit in the psychedelic experience, if we cannot “bear the beams of love”, we will either close down, batten down the hatches and block the influx of psychic energy, or we will shatter into pieces: Shevirat haKeilim. And without a solid container, the life-giving spirit will be lost, as if we were to pour water into a cracked vase.
The “set and setting” provide a container for the psychedelic spirit. The mantra and the music in particular act as vessels for the divine energies so that we can hold them and hold onto them, and channel them through our mortal frames without blocking or shattering. But so does our ability to endure, to stand firm and withstand “the slings and arrows” of the spirit world.
Taking our cue from Nassim Taleb’s work, the vessel which receives the devastating power of the psychedelic numen must be “anti-fragile”. Unlike a fragile wine glass that smashes as soon as it hits the hard floor, or a non-fragile plastic beaker that bounces back, it must be anti-fragile. Like our bones and muscles, which get stronger when put under stress, the soul of the shaman increases in resilience and power with each psychedelic onslaught.
The mystical elixir inside the cup fortifies and strengthens the cup itself. Although the ego may shatter, although the mind may shatter (the “shattering of the vessels”), the soul, which is the true cup, manifests ever more strongly. The golden chalice is not given to us, but must be found, must be alchemically created, out of the very golden elixir it holds.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but only if you have a good-enough container to start with. Strong psychedelic medicine is contra-indicated for emotionally unstable people with serious mental health problems, people with severe anxiety or depression, and people with a history of psychotic breakdown. (Psychedelic treatments can be enormously healing and beneficial for all sorts of conditions, but only within a supportive and carefully administered therapeutic context, with continuous professional care and attention during the experience, and lengthy preparation and integration before and after).
Although the excitable advocates for the psychedelic renaissance like to portray psychedelics as a miraculous panacea for all our problems, there is no magic pill, there is no short cut, and there is no free lunch. It’s bloody hard work. And it’s not for everyone.
Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.