teafaerie writes about her experience of Chapel Perilous.
I’m writing a book. It’s almost done. Or so I tell people. Nobody but me can verify its existence, because I don’t seem to be able to share it with anyone. Yet. I’ve shown a few snippets of it to my husband, and to my best friend Seuss Dean with whom I can share almost anything, but in a way they are the most awkward audience for it because they both figure prominently in the narrative. So when people ask me what I’ve been working on, I just tell them that it’s a book about my experiences with psychedelics, flow arts, and polyamory. That’s usually enough to satisfy mere idle curiosity. If someone really presses me for information, I can sometimes be persuaded to divulge the working title: Playing With Fire – How I turned Chapel Perilous into the Flow Temple and Learned to Love God, the Devil, Myself, and Everyone Else.
Predictably enough, this leads to people asking me to define Chapel Perilous for them. I’ve been trying to define it for myself, or rather to figure out what it means, for most of the five years that I’ve been working on the book. It’s a hard thing to put one’s finger on. In fact, that’s part of the point.
The history of the term is interesting. Traditionally, the Chapel Perilous or Grail Castle has been the ultimate destination for knights questing after the Holy Grail. For most people of my generation, this brings up an image out of Monty Python, as well it should. The story has been around for a long time, though. The mystical experiences within this chapel are the climax of many an Arthurian adventure story. Those who entered were typically subjected to a rigorous battery of challenges, some of which seem to be training exercises of sorts, while others are ultimate tests of purity, conviction, and understanding. Dangerous traps are to be found there, often tailored to force a confrontation with an individual knight’s personal weaknesses. Those who failed would not be allowed to access the Grail and might even be killed or driven mad in the attempt. On the other hand, a candidate who proved worthy might hope to be granted great power and priceless treasures.
The idea of Chapel Perilous as it is commonly used in psychedelic parlance comes from Robert Anton Wilson’s countercultural classic The Cosmic Trigger. Bob defines Chapel Perilous as: “A stage in the magickal quest in which your maps turned out to be totally inadequate for the territory and you’re completely lost.” He has quite a lot more to say on the topic, having spent a good deal of time there himself:
“Chapel Perilous, like the mysterious entity called ‘I,’ cannot be located in the space-time continuum; it is weightless, odorless, tasteless and undetectable by ordinary instruments. Indeed, like the Ego, it is even possible to deny that it is there. And yet, even more like the Ego, once you are inside it, there doesn’t seem to be any way to ever get out again, until you suddenly discover that it has been brought into existence by thought and does not exist outside thought. Everything you fear is waiting with slavering jaws in Chapel Perilous, but if you are armed with the wand of intuition, the cup of sympathy, the sword of reason and the pentacle of valor, you will find there (the legends say) the Medicine of Metals, the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher’s Stone, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.”
I myself tend to think of Chapel Perilous as the place where you find yourself when the sheer absurdity of it all can no longer be ignored. When it all starts to add up and multiply while remaining somehow stubbornly indivisible. When synchronicity spirals out of control and you finally discover that you really are, in fact, the center and purpose of the universe after all. Either that or you’re stone-cold crazy. Or maybe it’s both. It’s the dark night of the soul, and it’s generally understood to be some kind of a trap. But it’s also a doorway, if one has the courage, strength, intelligence, and luck to pass through it.