The Grail Maidens

in The Arthurian Tarot (HallowQuest) of Caitlin and John Matthews




There are four maidens in the pack relating of course to both the elements and the Hallows. This card depicts the castle of maidens, often represented in the grail legends as being places of enchantment.

I don't know how it translates into women's lib theology, although I have had it mentioned to me that women are often seen in a negative light in the grail legends. It is certainly no surprise that the feminine element in the dynamics of the cycles of Divinity have been lost, misaligned or else overlaid with a Patriarchal emphasis. One way around this is to use a template and there is a very good restorative one in "Raising the Queen of Heaven” by Glen Knape. Based on the early Theosophical models of the Seven Planes of the Cosmos and also the Qabalistic Tree of Life - here the poles of Divinity are seen in relation to a magnetic field between Heaven (All Father) and Earth (Divine Mother). In between, if we consider a bar magnet analogy, the magnetic field flows outwards from North to South and then internally from South to North. In this way the magnetic field of consciousness can be seen as both the Divine Son as out-breath, (carries energy from Father to Mother), and in-breath as Daughter carries energy from Mother to Father.

In the grail legends then, we have the symbolic return of the Divine Daughter as Maiden, who's role should be to rescue the Son from the confines of matter (Mother) and return him to the source that is the Father. Traditionally though it has been turned around in such a way that the Knights always seem to "rescue" the Maidens.

What complicates things further when using this symbolic framework is that there are really Seven Planes of the etheric or magnetic field and the Mother aspect is again the Third one down (Atma). The fourth plane (Buddhic) symbolises the Heart for instance (since the seven planes are representative, although not exactly aligned with the chakras) while the three planes either side are triads consisting of the three Spiritual worlds above and three material worlds (physical, astral, mental) below respectively. If the grail knight represents the Divine Son, arising from the Spiritual and descending into matter, then the Divine Daughter IS the way shower to the Grail, that is in effect of the third etheric plane (the transcendent Mother in Heaven). The third etheric plane, for example, could be represented by the Qabalistic third Sephiroph - Binah, or, by the Empress card (Arthurian Tarot - Guinevere) in the Major Arcana.

In the grail legends, wherever Maidens occur they are likely to be aspects of the Earth Mother as Divine Daughter. In Qabalah, the magical image for the tenth Sephiroph - Malkuth (earth) is a young woman crowned and throned. The Sepher Yetzirah gives : "The Tenth Path is the Resplendent Intelligence, because it is exalted above every head, and sits on the throne of BINAH”


Here again, Binah is the Mother who sorrows for the absent Persephone (the etheric-life force) who spends half of the year in Hades (ninth Sephiroph - Yesod), while winter occurs on earth. Again, according to Glen Knape, these were also patriarchal distortions that do throw a spanner in the works of the true cycle. This is since the Divine Son as Hades has now (fallen from grace) become trapped in the Underworld and is portrayed as a ruler there. He has also abducted the Divine Daughter, who cannot re-ascend back to Heaven (The Father). As half measure she is trapped in the shadow worlds between Malkuth and Yesod, in a sort of half cycle of death and rebirth.

Regarding the grail legends, however, and particularly the Arthurian Tarot; the suits of spear, grail, stone and sword are indeed of Malkuth (earth), which is Qabalistically the Sphere of the Elements. It is also why there are ten cards per suit. They relate also geographically to the four cardinal directions of which these elemental correspondences can be drawn. Spear, South; Sword, Air; Grail, West and Stone, North. In this way the Divine Daughter or queen of earth now has four aspects or “dresses“ and these correspond also to the seasons. In this way various dramas can be played out, whereas in Qabalah, the Divine Daughter ascended would come to represent the unveiled Isis of the seventh Sephiroph- Netzach. The negative polarity of this could then be reflected in the card grail seven, whereby the unveiling of Isis is rather more of a glamour, as used in most modern advertising. The four suits, remember, are still being played out in Malkuth, which is supposed to be veiled. It is perhaps one reason why Muslim women use veils to represent this idea.

The sword maiden, in one of her Malkuth aspects, appears as an ugly maiden, who admonishes Perceval for his failure at the court of the Fisher King, to ask the grail question. She points out to him, with logical accuracy, the exact repercussions that his unconscious incompetence has had upon the land, albeit turning to waste. Furthermore, she goes on to announce to the rest of the Knights at Arthur's court, opportunities to win honour, have adventure and encounter chivalrous deeds. One of these adventures involves rescuing a besieged maiden from the peak of Montesclaire, thus winning the greatest honour and the ability to safely gird on 'the Sword with the Strange Straps.'


The spear maiden is associated with the element of fire; being also the Manasic fire - born of the Buddhic earth of primal darkness. In this respect we find her roots in the myth of Ariadne, who gave to the hero Theseus, the intuitive thread that would guide him through the labyrinth. In the grail legends we meet her again in the form of a mysterious girl who at first snubs Perceval and when he tries to follow her, he looses her in the pitch black darkness of the night. He then sees a vision of a supernatural light, which burns like five lit candles, lighting up the forest. When it is daybreak Perceval catches up with the maiden, who has now changed in favour towards him and gives to Perceval a ring and a white mule, that she says, will lead him to the grail. The ring is of course, another aspect of the spear Hallow.


The stone maiden is said to represent Dindrane, the sister of Perceval, who sacrifices her blood to heal a leper, so that the knights could continue on their quest to the grail:

"The travellers boarded the ship, intent to complete the task of finding the Holy Grail. After leaving the ship, they encounter a castle with a mistress. Dindrane decides to give her own blood to the lady in order to heal the lady's leprosy, and dies in doing so. She left directions that her body was to be set adrift in a boat (without a crew) to float to the holy city of. Lancelot finds the ship that carried her corpse and Dindrane is buried in Palais Esperitel. Galahad, along with Bors, later find the vessel containing her body when they land on the port of Sarras (after which they proceed to find the Grail)" (from Wikipedia)


The grail maiden is likely to occur in many places, for instance as an echo of the once Hyperborean tradition of oracular prophecy at sacred wells and springs. In Perceval she is the maiden who hasn't laughed for seven years until the fool Perceval arrives at court and she suddenly bursts into laughter and prophesies that he will be the finest of knights and achieve the grail.

Finally, regarding the maidens' who carry the grail into and through the court of the Fisher King; it is really another patriarchal overlay, for the wounded Fisher King is really the Earth Mother.


Artwork by Miranda Gray. Copyright Miranda Gray, Caitlin and John Matthews



PAGE CREATED ON 15th January 2008

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