Monday, May 11, 2020

The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon

"The Temptation of Sir Percival" by Arthur Hacker
"Sir Galahad, the Quest for the Holy Grail" by Arthur Hughes
King Arthur and His Knights see a vision of the Holy Grail at Pentecost

Here is the Book of thy descent. 
Here begins the Book of the Sangreal, 
Here begin the terrors, 
Here begin the miracles.
~Prologue to Perlesvaus 

 And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them, And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.~Matthew 18:2-6

 I have a lifelong interest in Arthurian legend, beginning with reading  King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green as a child. Later I took courses in Arthurian literature in graduate school at SUNY Albany, reading Geoffrey of Monmouth, Sir Thomas Malory and The Idylls of the King by Tennyson, among many other works. I recall writing a paper on the historical King Arthur, which fascinated me. I came across the story of Percival, called Perlesvaus, and the words: "Here begin the terrors/ Here begin the miracles", which told me that the Grail Quest meant enduring trials and suffering but offered redemption, healing, and miracles. In my free time I devoured such popular novels such as White's The Once and Future King, Mary Stewart's Merlin novels, and even Barbara Ferry Johnson's Lionors.

I remember as a twenty-two-year-old being excited when I saw a new book called the The Mists of Avalon by an author called Marion Zimmer Bradley. Mists was presented as the retelling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of the women of Camelot, which I thought was a thrilling idea. However, I found the book heavy on paganism and morbid, explicit sex scenes, but light on romance, heroism, chivalry, mystery, faith and all the qualities I had come to love in the Camelot stories. I never read any of the author's other books and did not care to see the miniseries. Overall, I saw Marion Zimmer Bradley's novel as a disappointment and a betrayal of the spirit of Camelot. An important aspect of the King Arthur cycle, both historically and emblematically, is that it portrayed a Christian culture besieged by encroaching paganism. The Christian Britons fought to maintain what was left of the Roman Christian culture in the face of invasion from the pagan Saxons while simultaneously dealing with the remaining elements of the old Celtic paganism. According to the legends and snippets of historical data, the Camelot of Arthur and his warriors was an island of Christian Roman civilization surrounded by the chaos of paganism. After the fall of Arthur, the Christian Britons retreated to Wales, Cornwall and Brittany as most of Britain was conquered by the Anglo-Saxons, who would not be converted to Christianity for another hundred and fifty years.

Neo-pagans, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, like to portray pagan cultures like Celtic Britain as being venues of unlimited, uninhibited sex, free from the "taboos" of Christian society, where women were acknowledged as goddesses and people who chose to be Christian were weak and/or hypocritical. Such views, based on a profound misunderstanding of both history and folklore, now pervade our society. In most pagan cultures that I have studied (and I do not claim to have omniscience in that regard) sexual "liberation" applied only to those with power.  While rulers, powerful men, and sometimes even rich ladies, could do whatever they wanted, the majority of the people were in a state of servitude and had to conform to the wishes of the elite. It was Christianity rather than paganism that offered powerless persons control of their bodies and the consent of how their bodies were to be used. In Christianity, the most abject slave had the right to say "no" if a certain act violated his or her moral principles. It would probably mean death, but death of the body was to be chosen over death of the soul. Most slavery in the ancient world had a sexual aspect to it, and not only in the ancient world, but wherever slavery has been legal. Only when your soul is your own are you truly free.

While it cannot be doubted that there were pagan myths and beliefs swirling beneath the Arthurian legends, it is also true that the Arthurian cycle is essentially Christian, rooted not only in the Gospel mysteries, but centered on a Eucharistic quest, in the form of the Quest for the Holy Grail. The knights who go on the Quest are tested by encounters with seductresses, beasts and various phantoms, the bottom line being that moral courage as well as spiritual purity must be sought in order to find the chalice of the Last Supper. For centuries, during the era referred to as the Middle Ages, the tales of the Grail Quest and of the Knights of the Round Table were told to young people as thrilling stories but also as lessons for knights as well as for ladies. The Arthurian cycle offered goals to which they could aspire, including the disasters which might occur due to sin and corruption. The tales were at the center of the culture of chivalry and courtly love, offered as a code of conduct for knights, to which many aspired, involving the protection of women, benevolence towards the weak, charity for the poor, courage and fortitude in adversity, reverence for the Church and respect for consecrated persons in Christ. We know that many fell far short of the ideals, century after century, but the tales continued to be told for generations. Sir Thomas Malory wroteLe Morte d'Arthur  during the turbulent years of the Wars of the Roses in England, when many knights of high and low estate were seen to fail in upholding the code of chivalry. Yet Malory's book was posthumously published by Caxton in 1485 and has rarely been out of print since.

Beginning with two trips to the south of France in 1994, I deepened my research of the Grail Legend as it related to the Cathars of Languedoc for my novel The Night's Dark Shade. The novel tells of the clash between the Cathars and Catholics in thirteenth century southern France, resulting in the brutality of the Albigensian crusade, replete with episodes of knights being unknightly. One of the subplots of The Night's Dark Shade deals with the mysterious "Grail Stone" sought after by the Cathars. While the quest of the Holy Grail of King Arthur's knights was a journey in search of the chalice used by Our Lord and His apostles at the Last Supper, the "Grail Stone" was reputed to be a stone which fell from the crown of Lucifer when the rebellious angel was cast out of Heaven. While the myth of the "Grail Stone" is of gnostic origins tales about it were incorporated into Arthurian legend during the Middle Ages, particularly in the Parzifal cycle as retold by Wolfram von Eschenbach. According to New Advent:
In the...Wolfram version we meet with a conception of the Grail wholly different from that of the French romances. Wolfram conceives of it as a precious stone, lapsit exillis (i.e. lapis or lapsi ex caelis?) of special purity, possessing miraculous powers....The angels who remained neutral during the rebellion of Lucifer were its first guardians; then it was brought to earth and entrusted to Titurel, the first Grail king. It is guarded in the splendid castle of Munsalvaesche (mons salvationis or silvaticus?) by itself and nourished by its miraculous food-giving power....
Some scholars have maintained that the concept of "neutral angels" is Catharist. Furthermore, Celtic historian Jean Markale insists that the idea of the "sacred stone" has no connection to the original Celtic myths which may have been partially incorporated into the Arthurian Holy Grail legends. The Grail Stone was closely connected to alchemy and the occult. The Grail Stone legend offered the seduction of magic as opposed to faith and devotion.

Similarly, heresies such as Catharism, beneath the false veneer of a purified, rigorous Christianity, offered an "easy" way to God. It was, however, a way without the cross of Christ. The Cathars, in despising the material world as the work of a lesser god they called the demiurge, saw sexuality as regulated by the laws of holy matrimony as evil, in that marriage encouraged procreation, which was to be avoided as much as possible. The Cathars preferred what we would now call "free love" which in their mind was sexual relations regardless of gender or familial relationship. Acts of sodomy were not considered taboo but were favored by the Cathars since they did not result in progeny. The same reasoning applied to some forms of incest. Not that the majority of Cathars did not have children like everyone else but under their puritanical exterior lay the eventual collapse of family life.

The beliefs of the Cathars have recurred throughout history, most recently in the modern "New Age" movement. This brings us to Moira Greyland's recent book, The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon. To quote from the Amazon page:
Marion Zimmer Bradley was a best-selling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel The Mists of Avalon and for her very popular Darkover series.

She was also a monster.

The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.

The Last Closet is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.
I saw Moira's book being discussed on Facebook and decided to order it. The Last Closet tells the most hideous psychological and physical abuse at the hands of both of her parents. Unlike other books about childhood sexual abuse, Moira's book is not based solely on her memories, which are convincing enough, but also upon the testimony of witnesses, including other family members, upon her parents' published and unpublished writings, as well as police reports and court records.The print and Kindle editions include extensive documentation, references to which are worked into the narrative of the Audible edition. Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, while being extremely gifted people in many regards, were mentally and emotionally disturbed. And perhaps diabolically possessed. Their personal philosophies enabled them to act out their grotesquely abusive behaviors. What good they had within themselves, such as their love of the arts, lived on in the very children they practically destroyed.

Many of us who grew up at the same time as Moira, even those of us who had Christian parents, have had bizarre and devastating experiences due to the permissive and experimental culture of the sixties, seventies and eighties, which permeated everywhere. The book shows how our country and our world got to the dark state we are now, while at the same time offering a great deal of light and hope as we read of Moira's survival and determination. A lover of music, singing, dance and Celtic culture, Moira seems to embody the original dream of Camelot before it was distorted by neo-pagans, especially in her courage in taking a stand for the truth, at great cost to herself. The fortitude and bravery which comes through as Moira describes her journey of recovery are such that would make any knight of old worthy to sit at the Round Table with Arthur, Gawain, Percival, Galahad and the others whose names survive in legend and song. I listened to The Last Closet on Audible and am so glad I did. The author narrates her book with the most beautiful diction, plus the emotion which comes through conveys more than any words ever could. Few books have impacted me so deeply. No one but Moira Greyland could have written such an exposé; one can see that in doing so the work of God has been done, and His saving intercession. The Last Closet is a must-read for anyone who seeks to understand the very darkest side of the neopagan society we now live in.



julygirl said...

Marvelous, intelligent review!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, I hope it encourages many people to read Moira's book!

Michael J. Russell said...

Powerful and insightful. Absolutely have to check out Moira's book, now, as well.

elena maria vidal said...

I recommend the Audible version. You can listen to it in the car.

Moira Greyland Peat said...

Thank you for this, and God bless you.
—Moira Greyland Peat

Zeke OF Confettii said...

In decades of reading, this was the hardest to finish reading of all ... But I had to. Thanks to God for giving Moira the fortitude to complete it.

Gregory Peter DuPont said...

Wonderful lady and an incredible writer.

elena maria vidal said...

Moira, thanks to you for having the courage to write such a brave book which shatters the lies of our current society.

Zeke and Gregory, I agree!

Anna-Marie said...

That is what I am doing. Sometimes it is just too much and I have to switch ot off for a while.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is disturbing and heartbreaking but eye-opening.

Eli said...

Great review! On topic of Arthurian legend, where would be a good place to start? I have The Once and Future King by White, but outside that I haven't done much research. Your brief description definitely makes me want to know more about the legend besides the Disney version I grew up watching.

elena maria vidal said...

Hi. I would recommend Green's King Arthur and the Knights of the Table. Then Idylls of the King by Tennyson. Pyle had a wonderful Arthurian book, too.