Efnisien sacrifices himself to destroy the cauldron of rebirth. The Destruction of the Cauldron of Rebirth (1905) by Thomas Prytherch (1864-1926). Image Source: Wiki.
As a child, I read Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron, the second book in the Chronicles of Prydain. The hero, Taran, makes his way through a vast swamp to find a black cauldron, which must be secured before an evil king seizes it. This artifact has the power to bring dead men back to life and can create an army of undead warriors. Similar to Sauron's ring in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the cauldron is depicted as a weapon like today's atomic bomb. It looks like a tool for certain victory in war. But it offers death and despair to those who try to wield its incredible power. The only thing an army can do with this mega-weapon, according to Celtic folklore, is destroy it, because its power lies beyond the accepted boundaries of human existence. Taran learns from the cauldron's witch guardians that the cauldron can only be destroyed by the sacrifice of a live man who willingly climbs into it and dies.
Lloyd Alexander's work adapted the Welsh pre-Christian myth cycle, The Mabinogion. This Celtic legend is part of Britain's earliest prose literature, a romance written down in the 11th century, based on earlier oral sources. In the second part of these tales, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr, "A tragically genocidal war develops fomented by Efnisien, in which a Cauldron which resurrects ... dead figures." The sadistic, psychopathic anti-hero Efnisien is responsible for the destruction of Ireland and the Island of the Mighty, also known as Albion, Prydain or Britain. To make up for his transgressions, Efnisien climbs into the cauldron and destroys it. Thus, bound up with the cauldron's original story of resurrection is a tale of Celtic warriors who have turned on each other and fought amongst themselves. One of their own betrays the other lords, and initiates mass-killing and mass death; he sacrifices himself as a means of redemption and acceptance back into the fold.
Arthurian myth turns right at the point where the Celtic pagan became Christian, and the cauldron became the Grail. Arthur's knight, Percival, with the Grail Cup. Arthur Hacker (1858-1919), The Temptation of Sir Percival (1894). Image Source: BBC. The painting is in the Leeds Art Gallery (LEEAG.PA.1895.0013).
The Celtic cauldron was a predecessor to the Holy Grail in northern Europe. By the 12th century, medieval Christian doctrine transformed the cauldron's abominable symbol, from a grisly instrument of evil resurrection to a tool of sacred regeneration through resurrection, known as the Holy Grail. That means that as ancient societies stabilized, their view of death changed. The symbol at the heart of their stories essentially stayed the same, but the spiritual message around resurrection became a tale of heaven rather than hell. The cauldron became conflated with the Chalice that Jesus supposedly used at the Last Supper. In the 20th century, the Nazis launched an actual search for the Grail, to lay claim to their share of Celtic heritage and Romantic reworkings of Christian legend, while conflating both traditions with the Aryan Cup of Jamshid, a mythical artifact that enabled the ancient rulers of Greater Persia to see the future.
- My poetry, from the cauldron it was uttered.
- From the breath of nine maidens it was kindled.
- The cauldron of the chief of Annwfyn: what is its fashion?
- A dark ridge around its border and pearls.
- It does not boil the food of a coward; it has not been destined. ...
- And before the door of hell lamps burned.
- And when we went with Arthur, brilliant difficulty,
- except seven none rose up from the Fortress of Mead-Drunkenness. ...
- Monks pack together like young wolves
- from an encounter with lords who know.
- They do not know when midnight and dawn divide.
- Nor wind, what its course, what its onrush,
- what place it ravages, what region it strikes.
- The grave of the saint is in the Otherworld.
- I praise the Lord, great prince,
- that I be not sad; Christ endows me.
Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead (1908), symphonic poem Op. 29 - conducted by Andrew Davis. The painting in the video is Isle of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin (1886).Video Source: Youtube.
Caption for the above video: "The Isle of the Dead is associated with pre-Christian Celtic mythology and occurs as a theme in a number of European countries. In Britain, it is thought to be either a translation of the Welsh word 'Annwn' for the underworld or an extant geographical feature of Britain. Annwn (also spelled Annwfn or Annwvyn, in Middle Welsh Annwvn, Annwyn, Annwyfn or Annwfyn) was the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruled by Arawn (or, in Arthurian literature, by Gwyn ap Nudd), it was essentially a world of delights and eternal youth where disease was absent and food was ever-abundant. It became identified with the Christian afterlife in paradise (or heaven). [from Wikipedia]"
Golden Cup with gryphons and winged zebra-bulls from the Royal Cemetery at Marlik, Gilan Province, Iran. First half of first millennium BCE. Image Source: Wiki.
Golden necklace of three Swastikas found in Marlik, dates back to first millennium B.C. "A 3000 year ... old Iranian golden swastika necklace ... . Preserved at the National Museum of Iran." Image Source: Wiki.
Gold cup found in Gilan province, Iran (2000-1000 BCE). Image Source: Association of Wisdom and Traditions of Iran.
The Hyrcanian Golden Cup. Dated first half of first millennium BCE. Excavated at Kalardasht in Mazandaran Province, Iran. Image Source: Wiki.
First Persian Empire: "Sumptuous golden drinking cup from the Achaemenian period, found in Hamadan[, Iran]. Ornamented with a stylized winged lion." Image Source: Honor and Magic.
In the 1980s, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg introduced America to the Nazis' archaeological obsession with holy objects. Spielberg's films Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) centred on the Judaic lore of the Ark of the Covenant, the container for the tablets on which God inscribed the Ten Commandments (see a scene from the film here); and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) dealt with the Christian Grail (see a clip here). The latter film retains the pagan-Celtic-to-Christian transitional meaning that a sip from the right grail (a Christian saviour's cup) blesses the drinker with immortality, while a drink from the wrong grail (a pagan witch's cauldron) brings death. In 2003, Dan Brown reignited interest in the Grail, with a suggestion in his novel, The Da Vinci Code, that the 16th century Mona Lisa contained a hidden message about the Grail's location; this fiction was compounded by real reports that the Mona Lisa's eyes contain a code of tiny letters and numbers.
In 1945, soldiers of the Red Army discovered a huge SS archive on the early modern persecution of witches and pagan rituals, which Heinrich Himmler incorporated into Nazi occult and genocidal practices. Himmler's idea was that pagan priestesses had been keepers of an ancient Germanic culture and had been persecuted by Christian authorities; this was part of the SS plan to craft folkish propaganda, break the power of the Catholic Church, and split the Judeo-Christian tradition. Video Source: Youtube. The Hexen-Sonderauftrag records were transferred to Poznań. The bibliography of the Nazi collection of witch hunt and witch trial documents is here.
If you think these objects are Hollywood fantasy, think again. In April 2015, Israeli archaeologists accused Muslim authorities of concealing information on the Ark of the Covenant's whereabouts. Spielberg's films were grounded in fact, based on Heinrich Himmler's fascination with myth, linguistics and archaeology as a racial history, whose power could be exploited in past and present. In the Channel Four documentary below, Michael Wood explains how the Nazis attempted to find the actual Holy Grail. When they could not find the Grail, they ordered Munich's best goldsmith to make a fake one. That golden bowl was discovered in 2001 at the bottom of a lake in Bavaria.
The Nazis were obsessed with understanding how European heritage grew from Indo-Iranian culture. They hoped to find links between the ancient Indian Vedas and Aryan culture's furthest reach to the northernmost countries of Europe, sometimes known as Ultima Thule. They traveled to Tibet in 1938-1938, mainly to see how they could attack the British, but also to confirm Himmler's belief that Aryans had settled in the region. Despite their dreadful racial myth-making, the Nazis were right to connect folklore of Celtic cauldrons, the Christian Grail, and Persian cups. These magical vessels were all linked through the Nart sagas of the Caucasus, relayed by Indo-European languages; this was how stories first arrived in Europe of the Nartyamonga or Cup of Jamshid. This object was described as a crystal ball, lens, or scrying cup filled with an elixir of immortality, in which ancient Persian rulers spied visions of the future. As the cups above show, the First Persian Empire was renowned for its cup-making goldsmiths. For over three thousand years, it was customary for a high priest of the pre-Islamic faith of Zoroastrianism to address the Shahs of Iran in the following prayer for the spring equinox with reference to the Cup of Jamshid:
O Majesty, on this feast of the Equinox, first day of the first month of the year, seeing that thou hast freely chosen God and the Faith of the Ancient ones; may Surush, the Angel-messenger, grant thee wisdom and insight and sagacity in thy affairs. Live long in praise, be happy and fortunate upon thy golden throne, drink immortality from the Cup of Jamshid; and keep in solemn trust the customs of our ancestors, their noble aspirations, fair gestures and the exercise of justice and righteousness. May thy soul flourish; may thy youth be as the new-grown grain; may thy horse be puissant, victorious; thy sword bright and deadly against foes; thy hawk swift against its prey; thy every act straight as the arrow's shaft. Go forth from thy rich throne, conquer new lands. Honor the craftsman and the sage in equal degree; disdain the acquisition of wealth. May thy house prosper and thy life be long!"
Hitler's Search for the Holy Grail, Channel Four documentary (1999), narrated by Michael Wood explains SS leader Heinrich Himmler's family background. Himmler's father was a history teacher; as a young man, Himmler (1900-1945) became a member of the proto-Nazi quasi-historical occult Thule Society. The Society believed that the Germans were the original Aryans, descendants of Atlantis. Video Source: Channel Four via Youtube.
Michael Wood's closing statement in the above video quotes the Allies' final judicial report on the Nazis' manipulation of archaeology and history, especially by Wolfram Sievers and the Nazi historical division, Ahnenerbe. Wood insists that it is critical that we not dismiss Nazi historians and archaeologists as cranks, even though they created a blood-occult history to qualify the German military offensive as a Holy War. These SS researchers were serious, rational scholars, who willingly turned their talents to futuristic myth-making and historical justifications of crimes against humanity:
"'All members of the Ahnenerbe , in spite of Sievers who was executed, but all members of the Ahnenerbe, became important scholars in the post-war period. And after only a very few years, most of these archaeologists became the heads of departments of new institutions and it is an interesting aspect that one can't find pictures of SS Ahnenerbe archaeologists that wore uniforms within the literature. It's very difficult to get pictures of that.' ... [Wood:] These events took place fifty or sixty years ago now, and it would be easy to dismiss Sievers and the Ahnenerbe as a lunatic fringe. But that's not how they were seen by the Allied officers who interrogated them. Their report ends by saying this: 'It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this was not a crackpot organization, and these were men of the highest calibre, professors from the leading universities, men of the calibre of the atom-splitters and the V-bomb designers, engaged in a project to rewrite the record of the past, in order to influence the future course of history.'"
The Nazis' Chiemsee Cauldron was fashioned in the style of the pre-Christian Celtic arts to look like a true Welsh grail. It is made of 23.15 pounds (10.5 kilos) of gold. Image Source: Artnet.
In an attempt to harness the power of the Celtic cauldron myth, the Christian Grail story, and the Aryan Persian legend, the Nazis secretly made a cauldron, or Goldkessel, in Munich before the Second World War. Wiki:
Treasure hunters Jens Essig and Stefan Lohmann found the cauldron in 2001 at the bottom of Chiemsee lake in Bavaria. It strongly resembled the genuine Danish Gundestrup Cauldron, which dates from 200-300 BCE. Closer inspection found it to be a modern Nazi bowl made to win a war before World War II started. The discovery of the cauldron caused a stir. The Süddeutsche Zeitung called it the "Holy Grail," while Der Spiegel and other papers called it "Hitler's bedpan." The cauldron was in danger of being melted down and a campaign was set up to preserve it. Despite its doubtful authenticity, it was sold to a Swiss investor, then to Kazakh buyers, followed by a fraud lawsuit in 2010. American Josef Hatzenbuehler subsequently bought the cauldron and later launched lawsuits over fraud and ownership rights with Jens Essig. By March 2015, the cauldron was sitting in a storage locker in Texas, awaiting the outcomes of court proceedings.[T]he senior director of the Munich jeweller's company Theodor Heiden stated that the company's goldsmith, Alfred Notz, before his death in the 1960s, had told him about a "golden cauldron weighing more than 10 kg, with a figurative ornament and manufactured by means of the paddle and anvil technique" which had been manufactured in Heiden's workshop between 1925 and 1939.
The maker of the cauldron is believed to have been Otto Gahr, a Nazi Party member, silversmith and favoured jeweller to the Nazi elite. Gahr crafted the silver "death's head" rings worn by SS members. In an interview with National Geographic, jeweler Maximillian Heiden opined that Gahr would have been the obvious choice of the Nazi Party for such a project. According to Max Heiden, Otto Gahr, primarily a silversmith, probably sought out Alfred Notz for his expertise in working with gold. Furthermore, Nazi documents dated April 1945 were found in an attic in Germany in 2011. The papers, which appear to be a movement order for 35 items ranging from gold and silver to precious stones, were discovered among items once belonging to [SS leader] Heinrich Himmler. The documents list a "gold cauldron/Celtic" along with the name "Otto Gahr" and "Munich".
Sensational pop history National Geographic special describes the 2001 discovery of the Chiemsee Cauldron in Bavaria. Video Source (2013) © National Geographic and Youtube.
Despite ancient Persian roots, the Grail is mainly absent from later Islamic lore, possibly due to the Koran's injunction against magic. There were Grail-related Muslim manuscripts tentatively located in Moorish Spain, mentioned in a 1957 book by French historian Pierre Ponsoye, L'islam et le Graal. More recently, there have been some odd attempts to marry the Grail to Islam. In 2005, Sunni message boards discussed the possibility that the Grail was actually a golden casket carrying a letter from the Prophet (570-632) to the Roman Emperor Heraclius (575-641). This online rumour attempted to combine the function of the Ark of the Covenant with the holy message delivered by the Christian Grail.
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