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A Misdummer Night’s Grail Quest

Man’s greatest dilemma

Our greatest fear is that the lies we believe about ourselves are actually true. Those that tell us we’re ‘sinners’ or are in any way unworthy, bad, wrong, or evil – no matter what we have done – are lying. They cannot help lying, because they are ignorant of the truth of who we are. A truth Shakespeare has spared no ink, no thought, no risk to bring us. The way out of our greatest dilemma seems impossible but is staggeringly simple – once we understand one incredibly subtle truth, a truth Shakespeare has devoted his entire oeuvre and risked his very existence to bring us – albeit deeply camouflaged in his sub-text.

Simplistically, we, you and I, and everyone on this planet have two ‘selves’. We have a mortal ‘ego’, or false self that belongs to this world; and we have an immortal ‘soul’, or true self that belongs to the spiritual source of all life. The false self, thus, has a false purpose: a compulsive drive to prove at any cost we are not a bad person. If we follow this purpose we will never be happy. To an ego that fundamentally believes it is evil, being happy and fulfilled is anathema! We should be punished, we should suffer, it says, we should beg God for forgiveness! The best it gets following the ego’s purpose is to make enough money to pay for drugs and sensual pleasures that numb out the pain of existence. A living death waiting till we drop into our rut, or our grave.

In contrast, if we follow our true purpose, we will always be happy, but happy in a very different way: we primarily exist in a transcendent state of health-wealth-and-happiness sometimes called ‘abundance’.

When Shakespeare gets to Hamlet he expresses this higher distinction as the immortal: ‘to be or not to be, that is the question.’ Can you see how in A Midsummer Night’s Dream he kicks off Act 1, Scene 1, with this similarly-structured, innocent-looking, heretical choice?

Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments; awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth; turn melancholy forth to funerals; the pale companion is not for our pomp.

Yes, blink and you’ll skate right over this very thin ice. Right under the noses of church and crown, once again he’s calling on us to awaken the Spirit within.

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny! What this wry expression implies is that the development of the individual of a species follows the same process as the entire evolution of that species: every individual human (including you and I) went through the same developmental stages as the development of all humanity. HOLD THAT THOUGHT.

Let’s suppose when our mother gave birth to a body, we were not yet born! What was to become our body was ready and waiting (like a new car in the showroom) but who we really are, an innocent, pure, awesomely-powerful, unconditioned, divine soul, a spark of God, did not enter and activate this body until we took our first independent breath.

What if the soul’s purpose is no more complex than simply to experience a few years of life on earth? The nature of this experience was freely chosen before birth in a higher, spiritual consciousness. When it embodies, the soul extrudes a small particle of its own unconditioned energy to form the ‘conscious self’ of what is now the baby, and off it goes on its learning mission: to learn grow, work, serve and become reunited with the love of its life, the ‘lost’ spiritual self deep within.

Very soon, our ‘conscious self’ begins to forget its true divine nature and define itself, not as the immortal soul that we really are, but in terms of our concepts, thoughts and feelings – as society conditions us to fit in with family, religious, and cultural norms and expectations. Soon, we have forgotten who we really are, and become ‘intoxicated’, ‘enamoured’, ‘deluded’ by the world we perceive through our minds, emotions, and senses. It’s a damn good illusion. It’s a total mind-fuck to entertain the idea (the reality, actually) that everything we perceive as ‘out there’ (from objects, and people, to atoms and stars,) has been created by a remarkable internal imaging process ‘in here’!   We really do believe we can tell the difference between a dream and reality – but remember, when we are dreaming, it is that dream state that seems real. If we’re totally honest, we cannot really tell the difference – whatever state we’re in at the time seems to be the ‘real’ one.

As far as we are concerned we are lost. We have lost our way, the joy, the security, the bliss of who we really are as a soul, and our ‘reality’ becomes reduced down to the inescapable dilemma of ‘good versus evil’, and the misery, pain, and suffering this nightmare causes.

Our only hope is to rediscover the true soul that’s still here, but shrouded behind a wall of delusions. Fortunately, thanks to divine intervention, there is now a hole in this wall. A tiny hole through which the light and sound may pass. A tiny opening through which we can connect with and feed from the true, original source of our joy, fulfilment and happiness.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What a great idea for a play! Let’s call it A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Why not have some fun playing with people’s beliefs and perceptions about reality and illusion? Let’s play around with the biblical tale of ‘the fall of man’ and have people laugh at the way we have been intoxicated from birth by a powerful hallucinogenic that makes us forget the true love we have for our soul, and become deliriously infatuated by the glamour and materiality of this mad world.

The Holy Grail

Both literally and metaphorically, the elusive ‘Holy Grail’, supposedly the most important, most priceless treasure on earth, is what man has been seeking for thousands of years – and never apparently found. Tomes of writing have been devoted to exploring and explaining its mythology and materiality – to no avail. Yet what if the Grail is hidden in the last place we tend to look: deep inside ourselves? What if, in order to find the Grail, we must be ‘ready’? Meaning: sufficiently self-aware?

As you read this paper, you’ll come to a wall: the wall separating the clandestine lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. The only way they can share their love is through a tiny hole in this wall. I’m suggesting Shakespeare is telling us this wall represents the way our mind creates the illusion of separation between us and each other, and the Grail within us. The tiny cranny is the inner opening to the Grail! To appreciate the possible truth here, we too must find the tiny cranny through which the light and sound can pass. Your mind cannot do this, your heart already knows how. The only way to find the grail is to find the grail. Like the only way to find your hand is to find the finger that points the way.

According to my extensive research, hidden symbolically in the sub-text throughout all his works, Shakespeare is actually telling us what and where the Grail really is. It seems it is certainly ready for us. But are we ready for it? By way of a short test of ‘readiness’, try working through this brief sample of the challenging kind of guidance Shakespeare provides the sincere seeker of truth. If you tend to reject this kind of material out of hand, it implies the wall separating your mortal self from your immortal spiritual self is still too strongly fortified, and will not let you attune to your natural knowing. I would say that, wouldn’t I? You may agree with some sceptics who think I’m barking mad to see all this stuff – I find this flattering.  Some of Shakespeare’s most powerful characters (Hamlet, Lear, Ophelia, Titus) seem to be mad – until you really peer into what they’re saying and realise it is a glimpse into a world of greater spiritual reality. I am certainly not some master enlightened being who can see the face of God, it’s just that I have been passionately studying ancient mysticism for over 40 years – and I can simply recognise it in Shakespeare’s poetry.

If you catch even a glimmer of light or a whisper of sound calling you to adventure, then, yes, you may be ready for the greatest quest there is: the voyage into the infinite space within, and the unbridled happiness, joy, and fulfilment it freely affords.

Three plays for the price of one.

As open-air theatres across the globe pray for fine weather and rehearse our favourite fairy tale, like many of Shakespeare’s plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at least 3-plays-in-one:

  1. The fairy tale on the surface (synopsis below)
  2. The play-within-the-play used as his hidden decryption key (Pyramus and Thisbe – ‘adapted’ from Ovid)
  3. The play-beneath-the-play (anagogical, ‘heretical’, spiritual wisdom)

My intention with this paper is to help you awaken to the gems of forbidden wisdom hidden in the sub-text (of all Shakespeare’s plays). Wisdom that’s been systematically, cruelly, ruthlessly extirpated from our language and thought by the church and crown over the past 2000 years. Ancient wisdom about our purpose and destiny that could change your life today, bring you unbridled happiness, and save the planet from tyrannical rulers and  imminent destruction.

While this wisdom is still camouflaged in the Bible, it has also been disguised as the myth of the ‘Holy Grail’ and, once again, lost in the quagmire of romanticism and idolatry. Now a mere 400 years old, Shakespeare offers us another swing at it: a Rosetta Stone that decodes both the Bible and the Grail mythology in one fell swoop.

When the greatest success is the greatest failure

Do you ever get depressed and frustrated by your own success? No matter how well you do, how much money you make, how great your relationships are – there’s still something missing? Something dragging you down, a sense of  being ‘not good enough’, a disappointment with life, bitterness creeping in – that sort of thing? All the things that should make you happy – just don’t quite do it for you?

Why? Why is this? Because, I’ll bet you are chasing symbols of love and joy rather than going directly for the experience you really want!

When we do this we are playing the game our ego sets up. The game of ‘good and evil’. The only way the ego can perceive is through the mind. The only way the mind can perceive is through relativity: judgment and comparison. We’re always relentlessly, mercilessly judging ourselves as better or worse than someone or something else. The only way we get a sense of identity and self-worth is relative to some fantasy standard of perfection that lives outside of us.

We forget who we really are. We compensate for this profound existential sense of loss by trying to fit in with society’s expectations. And are constantly dogged by fear and failure – because this ‘normal’ approach to life simply does not work.

Welcome to the human race.

Some people (maybe you too) take extreme measures to numb the seemingly inescapable pain of everyday living – and end up pretending all’s well, but are, in fact, totally lost, totally addicted to something that will end you. Big Pharma, Fast Food, and Sloe Gin all work well here – especially if you’re the ones selling the salve.

Enter the Grail Quest

Let’s give ourselves a practical definition of the Grail Quest. How about: taking the risk of letting go the symbols of love and joy and discovering the true source of unbridled happiness and fulfilment already dwelling within ourselves?

This is where The Bard comes riding to the rescue: a knight in shining armour, riding a swift white horse, shaking a spear at the Jabberwocky. In our play today we’ll explore:

  • First, an oversimplified synopsis of Shakespeare’s own synopsis of his sub-text (provided by his adaptation of Pyramus and Thisbe).
  • Followed by, a synopsis of the fairy tale on the surface (poached from Hutchinson Center for the Arts’ website).
  • Finally, for those with an appetite for heresy, deep theology, and true fulfilment, an exegesis of the play elucidating his profound retelling of the Bible – from Genesis to Revelation.

Pyramus and Thisbe: Synopsis

Superficially, two lovers are separated by a wall built by their respective feuding fathers. They whisper to each other through a minute cranny, arranging to rendezvous, and elope. When Pyramus arrives, he finds a blood-stained garment, assumes Thisbe has been eaten by a beast and kills himself. When Thisbe arrives, she finds her lover dead, and likewise kills herself.

Simplistic hypothesis: anagogically, the wall represents the wall inside our consciousness separating the mortal self we know in this outer world from the immortal soul in our inner world. Pyramus (as did Romeo, Bassanio, Hamlet, et alia) seeks the joy of being reunited with his immortal beloved. Is this only possible through death? We shall see.

Fairy tale synopsis

Superficially, A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens with Theseus and Hippolyta planning their wedding, which takes place in four days.

Egeus enters with his daughter, Hermia, and her two suitors, Lysander and Demetrius. Hermia is in love with Lysander, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius. He declares that if Hermia won’t marry Demetrius, she will die. Lysander and Hermia decide to escape to Athens. Helena is in love with Demetrius. Hermia and Lysander unwisely tell Helena about their plan to leave. In a last effort to gain Demetrius’ love, Helena decides to tell him of this plot.

Peter Quince is directing a group of amateur actors to perform “Pyramus and Thisbe” for Theseus’ wedding. Nick Bottom, an absurd parody of an actor, is given the lead role.

Fairy Queen Titania and Fairy King Oberon are arguing because Titania refuses to give Oberon custody of the Indian boy she is raising. Oberon sends Puck, his trouble-making jester, out to find a plant called love-in-idleness, the juice of which makes any person dote on the next creature he or she sees.

Taking pity on Helena for the terrible way Demetrius is treating her, Oberon instructs Puck to put some love juice in Demetrius’ eyes at a moment when Helena will be the first person he sees upon waking. Mistaking Lysander for Demetrius Puck puts love juice in Lysander’s eyes. Still in pursuit of Demetrius, Helena wanders past and awakens the sleeping Lysander; he immediately falls in love with her.

When Titania falls asleep, Oberon squeezes the love juice in her eyes.

Puck, appalled by the awful acting of Bottom, gives him a donkey-head.  Bottom is unaware of the transformation and walks through the woods, waking Titania who immediately falls in love with him. Titania willingly releases the Indian boy to Oberon because she only has eyes for Bottom. Oberon’s plan is now complete so he releases her from the spell and has Puck remove the donkey-head from Bottom.

Both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Helena.  Before a serious fight breaks out between Demetrius and Lysander, Oberon has Puck create a fog that will keep the lovers from finding one another. While they are sleeping, Puck reverses the spell on Lysander. He also casts a spell so none of the lovers will remember what has happened in the woods. “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

In the final scene, the joyous lovers enter, and Theseus decides it is time to plan the festivities for the evening and chooses to see “Pyramus and Thisbe” performed. The players finally present their hilarious play.

Heresy and deep theology  (frequent strong language; scenes some viewers may find upsetting).

This part is personal. 40 years ago this year, I actually did discover that place inside myself where peace, joy, unconditional love, and unbridled happiness resides. Do I experience this all the time? No, of course not. But thanks to a daily, unfailing discipline, I am increasingly able to reconnect, with the bliss and mostly transcend the ‘heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh (and my earthly life) is heir to’.

Mystic Shakespeare

About 4 years ago, I was writing a new book about my coaching work with horses, and discovered quite by chance, that the ancient, forbidden, spiritual/mystical teachings that I have been following for forty years were being exquisitely dramatised in Shakespeare’s plays! Not just in one, but as an invisible thread linking them all together. As I explored the texts in utter disbelief, my eyes were opened and I gradually came to see and understand the symbols, metaphors, meta-language, codes, anagrams, puns, homophones, synecdoche, and all the linguistic devices of a master spiritual teacher and genius cryptographer at play.

I dropped everything to write down what I saw. A year later I self-published a work-in-progress as Shakespeare’s Revelation (Vol I).

Apart from the ubiquitous and delightfully enlightened Anton Lesser, to whom I brazenly introduced myself and my project in our local fishmonger, none of the university academics or the luvvies in the world of Shakespeare will even give it a glance – let alone a chance.

Anton loved it and said it was: ‘Brilliant and beautifully written. I couldn’t put it down. Shakespeare himself would be proud of you.

It was only after I’d finalised the first manuscript that I decided to include a chapter on Macbeth. Inconveniently, I began to see Shakespeare was also alluding to the ‘Holy Grail’ and pointing to key biblical passages that make it very clear (to me, at least) what the solution is to the enduring mystery of what and where the Grail really is.

Suffice it to say, partly why the secret of the Grail is so well hidden is that there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of different symbols, all with their own cult followings, that all stand for the same thing: the Grail. Here’s a couple of dozen to befuddle you!

Biblical, Shakespearean, and mystical symbols for the Grail

As you can imagine, if I would need to write an entire book to fully justify this bold assertion. As it happens I have. It’s called Shakespeare’s Revelation: his hidden key to spiritual fulfilment. Click, ask me for it, and it’s yours free.

The same applies to this exploration under the surface of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ve cut out 70% of the connecting fibres woven by Bottom the weaver throughout the play, but you may still find it dense and tough chewing. If I dumb it down much more it will become too banal and too unconnected. (All suggestions and volunteers to help gratefully appreciated.)

The overriding practical value of the play is in telling us of the power we all have to alter our perceptions (paradigms, mind-sets, world-views) and thus choose our reality. When as a divine soul, we are born into a mortal body we rapidly lose awareness of our true nature, we forget who we really are as a spark of God’s light, we become intoxicated by the fears and glamour of this physical world, and we identify ourselves with our social conditioning, it’s insecurities, material values, traditions, and blood feuds.

Theologically, as it were, this goes back to the fable in Genesis where the serpent lied to Adam and Eve (the original soul) and beguiled them (us) into disobeying God’s warning about the dire consequences of getting intoxicated by the delusional knowledge of good and evil. Good and evil and making judgments became the ruling mind-set and with it came the illusion of separation (the wall) from the knowledge of God within (the tree of life, aka the Grail).

Damn you Satan!

In his first speech as Pyramus, it may sound superficially as if Bottom is railing against the night and its blackness. This would indeed be a fittingly daft thing for him to do, but why Pyramus? Maybe it’s because, as begun in Genesis, and sprinkled liberally throughout the Bible and Shakespeare, Night has always been a symbol for none other than Satan himself.

O grim-look’d night, O night with hue so black. – Pyramus

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.               – Genesis, 1:4-5

Anagogically, Genesis, the symbol-steeped parable of the beginning of the creation of our human consciousness, is saying the positive, true, soul level, (metaphorically called Day), was divided from the negative, ignorant, ego, physical level, (metaphorically called Night). In other words, like the current between the poles on a battery, energy could flow freely between the spiritual form and the physical human form – until Satan caused this free flow of energy to be blocked.

Substitute God for day and Satan for night in these next lines and what do we get?

O night, which ever art, when day is not:

O night O night, alack, alack, alack

O Satan, who always rules, while God does not

O Satan, O Satan, alas, alas, alas.

In Bottom’s lament ‘O night’, it reminds me of Isaiah’s lament in probably the only biblical reference there is to another of Satan’s names: Lucifer (Light bearer).

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! – Isaiah, 14:12

In his book The Spiritual Warrior, the modern mystic, Dr J-R Hinkins, whose teachings I have studied in depth for over 40 years, might be expressing the essence of the metaphor this way:

Inside us

Who we are as an eternal being

Meets the person who’s here temporarily

Here, the Spirit, the emanation from God

Meets us, the selves we know.

This is our point of convergence

A point of concentration or attention

This is not new information. But it is new to us. It is the timeless wisdom from the sages through the ages.

The absurdly minute cranny through which Pyramus spoke with his Thisbe is surely a representation of this subtle point of concentration.

Because of the laws forbidding heresy, the vile punishments served up, the inherent bigotry of Christian dogma, and the stain persisting to this day, those of us whose spiritual practise differs from the norm tend to keep quiet about what we do. Until I saw Shakespeare divulging these ancient sacred teachings and practice I  also kept my head down lest it end up on the spike of some bigot’s jibe.

 

For forty years I have been practicing the HU meditation. Google ‘HU’ and see what shows up! Chanting the HU (pronounced ‘hue’) opens the portal in the 3rd eye chakra connecting our mortal selves and our immortal beloved soul within. Among other palpable, healing, benefits, this action allows pure spiritual love to flow in and flood the consciousness with bliss.

The image of Pyramus whispering to his beloved Thisbe through the tiny cranny in the wall is a sublime metaphor for this powerful meditation.

Remarkably, Shakespeare alludes to this inner channel in no uncertain terms – not just in this play, but also in, say, Hamlet: The native hue of resolution (the soul) is sicklied o’er with the pale caste of thought (the mind).

O night with hue so black – Pyramus

Sounds so unassuming and unlikely, but even on the surface it smacks of paradox – a ‘hue’ seems like a reference to ‘colour’, but black is the total absence of colour! And that is the point, HU is the ancient Sanskrit sound and tone meaning ‘God’. It forms the original root of words such as ‘hu-man’, ‘hu-mour’, ‘ent-hu-siasm’. It is this sound, this vibration from the source, the tree of all life ,that was cut off by the action of the lying serpent (Satan) in the beginning.

Puck’s love potion

You’ll hardly forget that central to the play is when Puck is instructed by Oberon to put drops of ‘cupid-juice’ on Demetrius’ eye lids, so he’ll fall in love with Helena, the first person he sees on opening his eyes. Puck mistakenly puts it on Lysander’s eyes – who, on opening his eyes, forgets the love he has for his true beloved, Hermia, and becomes deliriously infatuated with Helena. As are we when we open our eyes to this mortal world, we are given an hallucinogenic drug. This is a daring metaphor for the human condition and the hallucination of hubris and separation under which we all suffer.

Compare that fairy tale with this one:

And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:2-5

Now see how Shakespeare confirms we’re onto his hidden heresy:

Through Hermia’s voice, the serpent is, not just once, but repeatedly, indicted for what is way beyond the farcical, superficial misunderstanding, but far deeper to the ghastly rape, usurping and murder perpetrated by ‘Satan’ against all humanity:

Help me Lysander, help me; do thy best to pluck this crawling serpent from my breast…Methought a serpent eat my heart away, and you sat smiling at his cruel prey…Could not a worm, an adder do so much? An adder did it: for with double tongue than thine (thou serpent) never adder stung. – Hermia

The ‘poison’ from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, intoxicated our consciousness. We are now (all of us right now!) in a delusional, quasi-aware state where we fall in love with this false world; with our false sense of self; and the hu-bris of believing we know (above and beyond the soul) what is good and evil, what should and should not be just. We become blind to the higher spiritual purpose governing all things and fall obsessively in love with our own meagre perceptions and the opinions of others based on the myopic vision of the cataract-clouded mind.

Now back to our wall for the denouement.

Most directors extract maximum comedic effect from the seemingly clumsy death of Bottom’s Pyramus. In what has been dubbed ‘the longest death scene in Shakespeare’, he runs himself through the heart with his sword, dies, comes back to life to add a few more words, dies again, and floats upwards into the sky.

Once again (he does this in some guise in many of his plays) Shakespeare alludes to the most familiar keys ‘the messiah’ uses to unlock the soul from Satan’s bondage: blood, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Theologically, these four elements were the final precursors to the unsealing of the ‘wall’ (the seven seals) that stands between us and the awareness of our true self. The awareness that was cut off in the beginning when the soul, ‘Adam-and-Eve’, was beguiled by the serpent, banished and intoxicated. Because of this unsealing, ‘the wall’ is now down, it’s now possible for any and all of us to regain this awareness and experience the bliss and wisdom of what has been dubbed ‘the Grail’.

In the beginning

Flashing back now to Act 1 for context and corroboration, we have a tyrannical father, Egeus (Ego), who would rather have Hermia, his daughter, die for disobeying him and violating the law, than allow her to marry Lysander, the man she truly loves. Ironically, it is Egeus (as serpent) who falsely accuses Lysander of multiple counts of temptation and bribery in luring Hermia away from her tyrannical, self-righteous father’s total subjugation.

Following the benign intervention of the fairy king and his hapless helpers, the king of Athens decides to overrule the unforgiving father/ego/serpent and invites all the reunited lovers to celebrate their marriages alongside his own.

Grace, forgiveness, love, joy, and oneness (the natural qualities of the soul within us all) are now available for the liberation of all mankind.

The point is, the inner way to the source of our happiness is no longer blocked, it is now open TO ALL (regardless of belief) – and can never be shut down again.

I assure you, the wall is down that parted their fathers – Bottom

We need faith in our true selves, but not in some spurious god-concept that may or may not show up when we die – what good is this now? What we really need is the courage  and unfailing support to transcend our social conditioning that keeps us trapped. We need the discipline to seek the cranny (point of attention and convergence) inside our consciousness. Part of this is to make our own permanent happiness more important than the temporary distractions and sensations of the outer world. This is not a moralistic argument – it’s obvious all these ‘drugs’ from fast food to smart phones always promise happiness but never deliver – they just addict us to stuff that makes us miserable – even suicidal!

Theseus, King of Athens, sums it up: the Satan (our shadow side) has been vanquished – the pathway to the source of happiness is open to all, let’s celebrate our newfound union with our true selves:

This palpable gross play hath well beguil’d the heavy gait of night. A fortnight hold we this celebration, in nightly revels; and new jollity. – Theseus

Are you ready for the Grail? Have you passed this test? Do you hear the call?

What’s your next step? My suggestion: go see the play and look though new eyes.

Questions, comments, or for more food for your soul, get in touch: paul@shakespearesrevelation.com

 

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