Archive for the ‘Arthurian mythos’ Category

3: Druid & Christian — Samhuinn & Sovereignty   Leave a comment

[Part 1|2|3|4|5]

In a 2013 post I wrote that when I remember the ancestors,

I make my very own Samhain-on-the-spot, the veil between the worlds thins, and I converse with the dead, with the Otherworld, with the generations stored in my DNA and blood and bone.  Perhaps you could call it racism in the best sense of the word — a celebration of all who have gone before me and who, by living, have delivered me to this moment of my own life, as I write these words.  It doesn’t last, but it also endures forever.

Samhuinn is remembering and honoring connection. One reason it looms so large in Pagan practice is simply that the essence of ritual is connection, and successful ritual means good relationships. On social media like Facebook, we think that we decide if we’re “in a relationship” or not. Westerners in particular like to imagine we’re free, among many other things free to choose. But many of our relationships that matter most aren’t matters of choice. Our existence itself, as a part of this universe of beings, is the first and greatest example. So the biggest “relationship” question often isn’t whether but how: how will I maintain good relationships — with myself, with other beings, with the planet?

In language many Pagans would find congenial, Catholic priest and eco-theologian Thomas Berry writes* (in The Great Work):

…we will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things came into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.

“Religious naturalist” Loyal Rue makes an immense and related claim,** deserving (as I try to approach such things) neither acceptance or rejection at first, but simple meditation and reflection:

The most profound insight in the history of humankind is that we should seek to live in accord with reality. Indeed, living in harmony with reality may be accepted as a formal definition of wisdom. If we live at odds with reality (foolishly), we will be doomed, but if we live in proper relationship with reality (wisely), we shall be saved. Humans everywhere, and at all times, have had at least a tacit understanding of this fundamental principle.

And we see a movement among some Christians towards a center that Druids and other Pagans also strive towards. Michael Dowd, former fundamentalist and author of Thank God for Evolution!, writes:

I am an unabashed evidential mystic—a sacred realist, a Christian naturalist. Reality is my God and evidence is my scripture. Big History is my creation story and ecology is my theology. Integrity is my salvation and doing whatever I can to foster a just and healthy future for the full community of life is my mission.

In Arthurian tradition, the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur his sword, affirming his right to kingship, and she receives it back again when, mortally injured after the battle of Camlann, he is borne away to Avalon to be healed.

We can see the Lady as a exemplar of Sovereignty, right relationship to the cosmos. As a representative of the inward reality that lies behind our outward world, she initiates and instructs the king — metaphorically, the archetypal “royal line” in all of us. Demonstrating again and again through her actions that leader and land are one, she shows that psychic wholeness and healing can never be isolated or merely individual. We are communal beings. Hermits and recluses often report dreams filled with people, a compensation for their outward communal “drought”. The famous Grail question points to this same reality: “Who(m) does the Grail serve?” Not just the one who finds it or achieves it! The cheap and shallow English labels “winner” and “loser” simply do not apply.

If we connect with our ancestors in the largest sense of the word, with our physical forebears and also with anyone who has helped us to reach who we presently are and may become, we may begin to see that even in spite of what may be our best efforts to live only for ourselves, we still end up contributing to the entire cosmos. Whether that contribution makes us worthy ancestors to those who will come after us is another matter, and our individual and communal charge.

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Interlude — a different preview of Edinburgh’s annual and marvelous Beltane Fire Society Samhuinn celebration. Samhuinn can provide us with a mirror to see ourselves as ancestors (don’t we all “see through a glass darkly”?).

Here’s the link to the Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn 2017.

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Right relationship — the first ritual goal I will strive to keep in mind as I finish drafting my personal Samhain rite.

This evening my wife and I will gather with another couple a few miles away.  We’ve shared several of the “Great Eight” festivals before, sometimes with a formal ritual, at others with that most ancient ritual of all, friendship, food and fire. One partner of the couple often faces a difficult time at Samhain, due to her psychic awareness and to past bad experiences with the day. So for us sometimes the kindest ritual is not to celebrate Samhuinn in any formal sense at all, but simply to be present and grounded ourselves, and to help be grounding for her.

A fire can help burn away negative energy, and making a practice of imaginally gathering and tossing into the fire any negative energy, to be consumed and returned to its elements for the cosmos to rebuild into healthy and balanced forms, is appropriate work. Doing it physically and unobtrusively can also be part of maintaining the fire.

A blessed Samhuinn to you all.

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*Berry, Thomas. “The Wild and the Sacred,” in The Great Work. New York: Harmony/Bell Tower, 1999, pg. 49.

**Rue, Loyal. Religion Is Not About God. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005, pg. 135.

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Healing from the Past   Leave a comment

We commonly expect healing to arrive from the future — from a doctor’s prescription we’ll have in hand after an upcoming appointment, from an outpatient procedure in a clinic, from a series of therapy sessions or an interval of exercises.

We don’t expect healing to lie in the past, waiting for us to recognize it.

geoffreyThe historian-mythographer Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-1155), whose glorious Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) blends history and legend almost seamlessly, is one primary source for the Arthurian legend. In the Eighth Book of this magnum opus, also gives us an early glimpse of legends about Stonehenge, supplying a foundation, however wobbly, for the idea that the stones originated in Ireland — or even further afield.

If we follow Geoffrey, in fact, the impetus behind Stonehenge is the desire for a war memorial:

The sight of the place where the dead lay made the king [Aurelius Ambrosius], who was of a compassionate temper, shed tears, and at last enter upon thoughts, what kind of monument to erect upon it. For he thought something ought to be done to perpetuate the memory of that piece of ground, which was honoured with the bodies of so many noble patriots, that died for their country [in the fighting against Hengist]. — Historia, Bk. 8, 10.

merlinUnable to find among his own builders and engineers the technical ability to construct what he envisions, the king seeks out Merlin and asks for his help:

Merlin made answer:

Mysteries of this kind are not to be revealed but when there is the greatest necessity for it. If I should pretend to utter them for ostentation or diversion, the spirit that instructs me would be silent, and would leave me when I should have occasion for it. … [But] if you are desirous to honour the burying-place of these men with an everlasting monument, send for the Giant’s Dance, which is in Killare, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand forever.

Merlin is, of course, just the person to manage this feat. The Giant’s Dance comes east to the plains of Salisbury, to “stand forever”. But wait — Merlin hasn’t finished. There’s more. The stones themselves are charmed, and of a provenance far from their apparently temporary Irish resting-place. Merlin declares:

They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coast of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue. — Historia, Bk. 8, 11.

We seek for future cures, while the Merlins of our spiritual history attempt to alert us to sources of healing all around us. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue.

How many healings casually happen to me all the time? A scratch scabs over and even the mark fades with time. A cold passes and I recover, the hacking cough subsiding to a tickle and then to nothing. The purging of food poisoning wracks me and wrings me out, but my temperature control eventually leaves fevers and chills behind, I regain my appetite, and the memory of the nausea and dizziness and malaise slowly withdraws.

If we want the marvelous, the cause and occasion must match the healing outcome. The ordinary will not do: Mysteries of this kind are not to be revealed but when there is the greatest necessity for it.

What do we require? A wise guide and that guide’s counsel, certainly. But more: the conjunction of the potential and the place where it needs to be founded. The stones must be brought to a specific location for the desired result … if they can be placed here, as they are there …

It’s significant that the stones do not remain in Ireland. While giants placed them there for their own purposes, it takes human agency to bring them to their final location. Almost as if they had been waiting all along for human awareness to catch up to them, to finish their journey.

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I don’t need to disdain modern medicine to avail myself of ancient healing. We do need the latter. Modern medicine often does an excellent job alleviating symptoms, but leaves the deeper roots of the problem untouched, often because invisible, underground. The taproot of an illness or other problem may nourish itself in causes invisible to a materialist eye. I may continue to feed its source even as I claim to long for healing. Why else is it, in our modern and supposedly healthier age, that so many Americans — more than ever before — rely on prescriptions (link to Harvard University studies) against anxiety, depression, insomnia, and so on? The stats have made headlines, but no one wants to address the root cause, because it’s sunk in the rich darkness of our cultural blindspots.

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I add to my practice a henge-meditation. We needn’t bother ourselves to make any such claim as “Druids built Stonehenge” to make use of the spiritual dynamic it offers as a source of healing. Merlin sets the precedent: Stonehenge-as-symbol, in Geoffrey’s telling is older than its present home in southern England anyway. Not its origin but its power is what we need. Magic thrives when our intent makes the occasion a necessity: our focus is single and sharp not from force of will but from desire, emotion, need, want, hope, imagination, planning and preparation, ritual foundation, and love.

If I don’t move the stones here, their virtue can’t find me. Inner work is just as necessary as finding the right doctor, the proper regimen, the appropriate treatment.

Curious that the words of Jesus fit here so well: “The stone which the builders reject has become the cornerstone”. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue.

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Image: Geoffrey of Monmouth; Merlin.

 

A Winter Passage   Leave a comment

art-tarOne of the meditations for this time of year between Yule and Imbolc that I’ve set for myself deploys Caitlin Matthews’ Arthurian Tarot, a tool I’ve mentioned before on this blog. You can find a chart of the dates and cards my meditation associates with them at the end of this post.

[As promised in the post before last, I’m also reporting with this post on how well my outer and inner worlds match up with the possibility of regenerating ancient tradition.]

Working through the Major Arcana in sequence from the beginning, and using The World/The Flowering of Logres as a pivot to return to The Fool/The Seeker, the Tarot serves as an energizing and revealing series of meditations for the exact number of days between the Winter Solstice and Imbolc/Brighid’s Day, if I observe it on February 1.

The Arthurian Tarot works well for this purpose, because such use places Arthur/The Emperor on December 25, and in at least some versions of the Arthurian Mythos, Arthur was born on Christmas — he’s the Christmas King.

Thus, The Seeker sets forth on the Solstice, the day of greatest darkness — fitting for the beginning of the Journey, when almost everything seems shrouded, unknown. Though the Seeker stands on a precipice, he is not daunted, whatever the New Year brings — and in Arthur’s Court, it brings Gawain at least a deadly challenge in the form of the Green Knight. In this meditation series with the Arthurian Tarot, the Knight arrives on January 5 — fitting, since it’s the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the holy feast of Theophany in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, when the divine appears to men.

With these encouraging correspondences emerging as I filled in my calendar, I felt I had sufficient personal justification to continue and to explore what this meditation series might have to offer. If you’ve worked with synchronicity at all, you know how sometimes signs can line up almost too easily. “One thing becomes another” in the realms of the Goddess, and we can lose ourselves in too-easy correspondences and mystic convergences, forgetting our initial purpose as we indulge in excessive woo-woo*. Or at least I can. Take heed, says inner guidance.

sovereigntyContinuing the series, the New Year begins with Sovereignty — a reminder that whatever the situation in the apparent world, we have the gift of being able to gaze into the other world(s) as well, using our divinely-bestowed power of double vision, and see  where true power and authority lie, and acknowledge and revere the one(s) who wield(s) them.

The Wounded King immediately follows, with the Washer at the Ford and the Cauldron coming next — all three most potent symbols and archetypes.

Yesterday was Prydwen, the ship Arthur takes to raid the Otherworld and, in at least some traditions, win the Hallows of Britain, analogous to the Four Hallows of Ireland. As the Chariot, and a card laden with challenges in the past for me, Prydwen’s appearance told me I wasn’t up to tackle either the card or the meditation sequence. Bad food had left me achy in the joints, weak, and — most telling for me of toxins in my system — facing repetitive and panicked dreams and claustrophobia on waking. The Challenger stood armed and working in full force. Worth noting in my record of this day, even if I could not meet the call to close meditation and inner work the card indicated. Bed instead.

But I also know that, as is the way of spirals, I will face it again and again in the future, and my apparent “failure” yesterday is no loss at all. It has given me valuable insight, and helped me refocus energies that have previously been scattered. Now I can identify clearly a weakness that till then I had successfully managed to deny.

Another of the quests associated with Prydwen in the Arthurian deck is Arthur’s pursuit of the giant boar Twrch Trwyth, also associated with the Underworld and the Goddess, possessed of Otherworldly treasures between his ears, and — key to me — a form of my totemic animal, and sign of a way back to the lesson still available to me whenever I am ready to take it and my Boar dances his eagerness to accompany me.

Today, though, it’s Gawain. gawain

In some senses the figure of Arthur’s nephew, the “most courteous knight”, represents for me an unmerited balance, strength and harmony. After all, I did not “pass” yesterday’s challenges of Prydwen and earn these qualities.

But as we all make this journey many times, we catch glimpses of each aspect as we proceed, arming and equipping us for the next spiral along the way. In the timeless realms, “after” can prepare us for “before.” Or to put it another way, success can bleed backward in time, if we are able to accept the gift. A vision of what is to come, of the future, and of what we already are, can sustain us through apparent disaster and despair by manifesting here what already exists on the inner planes.

More to come.

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*woo-woo: again, a technical and precise term of art.

IMAGES: Arthurian TarotGawain.

The Meditation Calendar

Dec 21: Seeker at the Solstice
Dec 22: Merlin
Dec 23: Lady of the Lake
Dec 24: Guinevere
Dec 25: Arthur – the “Christmas King”
Dec 26: Taliesin
Dec 27: The White Hart
Dec 28: Prydwen
Dec 29: Gawain
Dec 30: Grail Hermit
Dec 31: Round Table

Jan 1: Sovereignty
Jan 2: Wounded King
Jan 3: Washer at the Ford
Jan 4: Cauldron
Jan 5: Green Knight
Jan 6: Spiral Tower
Jan 7: Star
Jan 8: Moon
Jan 9: Sun
Jan 10: Sleeping Lord
Jan 11: Flowering of Logres

(Reversal and Return)

Jan 12: Sleeping Lord
Jan 13: Sun
Jan 14: Moon
Jan 15: Star
Jan 16: Tower
Jan 17: Knight
Jan 18: Cauldron
Jan 19: Washer at the Ford
Jan 20: Wounded King
Jan 21: Sovereignty
Jan 22: Round Table
Jan 23: Grail Hermit
Jan 24: Gawain
Jan 25: Prydwen
Jan 26: White Hart
Jan 27: Taliesin
Jan 28: Arthur
Jan 29: Guinevere
Jan 30: Lady of the Lake
Jan 31: Merlin
Feb 1: The Seeker at Imbolc

Perilous Seats and Baiting the Truth   6 comments

mach-chairThe Welsh proverb A gwir yn erbyn a byd — “the truth against the world” — hasn’t lost any of its force. It still offers a challenge, read one way; and a simple statement about the nature of things, read another. Or maybe they’re the same thing.

The words appear on a chair in the Welsh parliament house in Machynlleth. The chair itself is fairly recent, the words traceable at least to Iolo Morganwg and the first Gorsedd of the Bards in the 1790s.

This relatively modern chair may serve us as an apt stand-in for the Siege Perilous, the “Perilous Seat” of Arthurian lore. In the old story as Malory retells it in his Morte D’Arthur,” He shall be born that shall sit there in that siege perilous, and he shall win the Sangreal.” Looking beyond pronoun gender, if you have no truth in you that you will maintain in spite of the world’s ways, don’t even think about sitting there. Better than the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, the Chair puts you where you deserve, weeding out the unworthy with death.

What truth, you ask? In each moment I can assert the possibility of spiritual integrity in each person I meet, while striving to manifest it first in myself.

I can’t wait for the other guy. “You first”? If we all do that, who will ever grow? We see around us the eyes of the spiritually dead. (Some days we join them.) The sad conclusions they’ve come to, in the face of suffering and setbacks, have no life in them. They’ve bowed out and accepted a living death. They (we) are the wounded kings and queens of our present-day Wasteland.

iolo-reliefIn times like this, spiritual integrity can mean living with intention, living counter to the prevailing mood of pessimism and despair. But more importantly, counter to living without any intention at all. You know, the home-from-work, plop down in front of the TV or computer and insta-drug.  Waiting to be entertained (is that so bad?), to be led, to be fed, to be used for another’s purposes because we have none of our own. Well, maybe it is so bad.

So I nip in, trailing some accidental courage, and I lay bait for truth, only half-conscious of what I’m doing. Some days that’s the only way I end up getting any. “Gonna get some” has prodigiously awful overtones these days, but I’ll apply it to truth instead. And having baited the truth, maybe even bravely, for a moment or two, my boldness gives out and I turn tail, racing back to my hole and waiting for events. For a change. For something to happen. Almost (I whisper it) anything but this.

And there’s the actual peril for most us, if we brush against our own version of the Siege Perilous. We already all know it firsthand, and Churchill put it into words: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Even Perilous Seats turn out to disappoint. Nothing happens. Except …

OBOD Druid rituals include in their opening the words “Let us begin by giving peace to the quarters, for without peace can no work be.”

Well, that decides it, then. No work can be, I mutter to myself. We’ve witnessed the efforts towards peace and justice, how each must be founded on the other. Hard work.

The Welsh ritual asks “A oes heddwch?” Is there peace?

The ritual answer is yes. Ritual can after all prefigure reality, open a door to its happening. It IS reality, on another plane, one we may wish to echo and emulate here. Or is peace a possession solely of some Otherworld, never to make its way here? Always a grail that’s over there, not here? “Grail on a shelf.” Good luck with that, shouts a chorus of wannabe truth-speakers.

The Galilean Master said to his devotees, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” Following the example of the Wise of many lands, we too can learn to give, and not as the world gives, but as our inner truth leads us.

Can there be peace if we each insist on our own truths against the world — against each other’s? Isn’t that in fact the origin of so many conflicts? Especially in America, with everyone shouting “It’s my right!” and no one saying “It’s my responsibility.”

Peace within us doesn’t preclude needful action. It does lay the ground for clarity and compassion out of which all true transformation grows.

And for me that’s a foundational truth I’ve had to learn the hard way. Many others would like to change me to fit their views of the world. The harder and more worthwhile challenge is to change myself to fit my view of the world. If I can’t manage to do that, why expect anyone else to? Or turning it outward, ask me to change in your way only when you can show me you’ve changed. Otherwise, I have my own changes to work on. That cuts down mightily on truths in conflict. And it keeps us all busy failing our way to success, says my inner cynic.

The Welsh ritual:

Y gwir yn erbyn y byd, a oes heddwch? The truth against the world, is there peace?
Calon wrth galon, a oes heddwch? Heart to heart, is there peace?
Gwaedd uwch adwaedd, a oes heddwch? Shout above responding shout, is there peace?

One good example outweighs a lot of words. (Some questions need to be asked, some answers given, three times so we can hear them.) But once we have the example, then the words draw energy from it, and carry some of that truth that runs “against the world” and toward spiritual integrity and harmony.  Words are empty only when hearts are. Full heart, full words.

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Image: chair; Iolo plaque.

Thirty Days of Druidry 4: Truths and a Truth   Leave a comment

wolfsubmitI take as my divination today an odd dream early this morning: I’m a member of a wolf pack, and my fellows have drawn me aside, possibly to be disciplined, after I am tested for truth-telling. The issue at stake, apart from truth, I don’t know. (There isn’t one?) But I feel the just authority and deserved power of my pack leader, I readily make my submission, lying flat on the ground, waiting patiently as I can, licking my chops, panting a little. At length I’m freed, though I lose the final threads of the dream and the actual issue in contention as I wake.

Who determines truth? Is it our pack? Often among social animals it’s indeed the group, for better and worse, like the words of the marriage vow, recognizing a truth about life. For submitting to a consensus is a form of contract. But such a formulation of truth results not just from others’ perceptions — a consensus averages them, bundles them together to even out the extremes, and not only may be no more accurate than my perception or yours, but may well be less.

Mere majority is no guarantor of value. “We all say so,” exclaim the Monkey People in Kipling’s Jungle Book, “and so it must be true.” Democracy, indeed, is the worst form of government — except for all the others. It’s a first approximation to that inner wisdom. Mix in other adulterating motives like the obscuring force of anger, envy, fear and so on, and the spinning moral compass still comes to rest to show that no group deserves more authority than the individual. A group may indeed have usurped such authority, snapped it up if we have ceded it, or claimed it in the absence of the rightful possessor, but that’s a different matter. The point persists behind Iolo Morgannwg’s Welsh aphorism Y gwir yn erbyn y byd — “the truth against the world” — regardless of whether we claim that inner sovereignty as our birthright, or heedlessly opt to forfeit it to whoever is the latest big noise to arrive on the scene.

A part of that sovereignty, true, urges us to seek wise counsel when our own vision falters (as it will from time to time), or does not offer sufficient guidance. But the choice to seek, follow, modify or ignore that counsel remains ours alone. It seems nowadays we’ve only a loose grip at best on the good meaning of discrimination: the ability to make vital distinctions that matter. For the opposite of discrimination is not indiscriminate approval or contempt. Rather it’s an abdication. Someone else, take up my crown and sceptre! It’s too hard! But as we come to know at cost, the only thing more difficult than struggling to uphold our sovereignty is the obscene suffering and atrocious despair we face when we let it slip through our fingers. Holocaust survivor and philosopher Elie Wiesel has said it well (adjust the pronouns to fit): “It is by his freedom that a man knows himself, by his sovereignty over his own life that he measures himself.” Without sovereignty, then, how can we know or measure accurately?

I offer as exhibits 1 and 2 most major headlines today and the lived experience of anyone over 10 years old. Among other wisdom paths, Druidry rightly asserts that it’s our inner sovereignty that comes first. All else follows from the state of our inner kingdom. It’s long work, this upholding of our sovereignty. And if like me you feel the evidence points towards reincarnation, well, we keep coming back till we get it right.Some things we know are true, against whatever the world throws down to snuff it out. Otherwise, what’s the cosmos doing, if not manifesting gloriously, excessively, magnificently, every single possibility along with a consciousness, feathered, finned, furred, to engage it, turn it back onto itself, plumb its depths, endlessly forming and re-forming.

machyn-chairThere’s a wooden chair in the Parliament House in Machynlleth, Wales, that bears those challenging words across the headpiece. For it too is a Siege Perilous, like that “perilous chair” at Arthur’s Round Table, that stands empty awaiting the one who wins through to the Grail, the seat that proves fatal, mortal, to the mortal who sits down unworthy. This life is perilous indeed — mortal — the Ancestors weren’t wrong about that in all their stories. We’re winning through, though by all appearances none of us have quite yet “won.” But we’ve come far enough, through both hardship and joy, to recognize the seat for what it is, to puzzle out the significance of the inscription there, to feel it in our bones. We’ve caught more than one glimpse of Grail in a human face, a landscape, plumbed it in the heart’s cry, caught echoes of the Grail Song, every one of us, against all the odds the world sets for us. We can even imagine sitting down eventually.

I suspect, too, that any endpoint is part of the model and not the reality it attempts to represent. It’s an asymptote, to get mathematical for a moment, if you recall that intriguing figure from school: undrawable, really — endlessly closing in on but never reaching a final point, a terminus, some ultimate destination. It’s the horizon infinitely receding. It’s the Mystery that lies behind and inside everything, the charge that impels all things. Taoists say it’s “like a well: used but never used up. It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities. It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God” (chapter 4).

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Images: wolveschair in Parliament House, Machynlleth, Wales.

 

 

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”   2 comments

[This Related Post: Arthur]  [Sex, Death, Etc.: Part One | Part Two| Part Three]

Like their kindred words in the other Celtic tongues, the syllables* of this Cornish saying still echo, telling of the “Once and Future King.” They assert a living archetype of a king born in fulfillment of prophecy, a ruler recognized and granted kingship by the Lady of the Lake, a leader who struggles, fights and dies for his people. The king is the land.

Arthur1

Arthur from the Matthews’ deck

Nyns yu marow Arthur myghtern. “He is not dead, king Arthur,” the story continues, but sleeps, and will wake at his country’s direst need, and return. The king is the land.

Arthurian tarot decks like John and Caitlin Matthew’s Hallowquest, Anna-Marie Ferguson’s Legend and Stephanie and Philip Carr-Gomm’s Druidcraft packs often depict the archetypal king as card 4, the Emperor. This is Arthur as anointed ruler, secure in his kingship, enthroned, crowned and robed in power.

But surely what moves us more is not merely this static image, forceful though it can be. The young Arthur, ignorant of his destiny, is also the seeker, the Fool, the first card in the deck, a numerical 0. In Ferguson’s Legend deck he is Percivale, the callow and naive youth. With both Guinevere (Welsh Gwenhwyfar, “White Shadow”) and his own sister Morgan (with several other variants of her name) he is one half of the Lovers. And at least in the Matthews’ conception, he is the Wounded King, and also the Sleeping Lord.

The progression, as in most tarot decks, is the journey of the self toward fulfillment, wisdom, self-awareness.

As a tool for Druidic meditation and ritual, the Arthurian mythos offers rich and profound material. Map our lives onto such a mythic pattern, and we can animate energies to manifest the next step on our spiritual journey. At every point we spiral. We can look at all the steps, all the places on the curves and whorls of the spiral, as potentials for us — right now. Not later. Not after we do or learn or master or win X. Now. The king who will be, but sleeps, is a potential which can guide the questing boy who will be — and who also already has been — king. What might the king say to his younger self? What gift might our older selves pass to us right now, insight or wisdom or counsel we need as we grapple with problems, as it can often feel, in the dark?

So many traditions around our planet speak in their own ways of time and space as illusions. This need not mean they are not real, but rather that we need not accept our agreement with an illusion as the last and defining word about our lives. They don’t have to be the only reality. By playing a game with time, we can slip into past or future through memory and daydream, to the point of no longer “being here” but “someplace else” instead. And we’ve all experienced this.

For we do this effortlessly, ever since childhood, a natural talent, a birthright, a skill we keep all our lives, unless it’s been largely chased away and beaten out of us by our culture, teachers, parents, our own self-limitation, habits of thought, and so on. “Head in the clouds, dreamer, impractical, unfocused”: words so many of us may have seen in school reports, job assessments, personal evaluations. Or maybe we suffer from the opposite pole, and more and more of the lightness and joy has been leached from our days through routine, day to day cares, deadlines and installments and bills and mortgages and the nightmarish hope of someday “catching up” or “getting ahead” or “arriving.” Always, it can seem, one pole or the other. But polarized things gather power. That’s why an illusion can grab and hold us. But that’s also why change and growth and exploration are also — always — possibilities. Poles hold the energy for entrapment, but also for transformation.

sleepinglord

The Sleeping Lord (form outlined in the hillside under the hawk)

These images and this millennium-old mythos provide a wealth of meditation seeds, portals to discovery, and material for ritual that Arthurian orders of ritual and magic explore, but which are also perfect for solitary work, too.

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth can be a contemplation seed (it’s one of mine), a cue to open the imagination to possibility. (I use it as a tool, a charm, a spell, a mantra of magical power. Pair it with an image, an object, an intention — intention being the flame which, I find, lights everything up.)

And if I’m willing to step across one more boundary, ritually priming myself with a “For behold: now am I ____ !” I can explore all the characters in the Arthurian realm. Taliesin-like, I can be the Green Knight, invulnerable to mortal blows, and Morgan and Merlin, Nimue and Mordred, too. What does it feel like to die as you kill your uncle-father (Shakespeare’s Hamlet knows!) in fulfillment of a prophecy from a time before your birth? What does it mean to lie asleep, waiting to fulfill a royal destiny? What part of me sleeps right now, that I can rouse if I choose? Or like Ygraine, Arthur’s mother, to carry an unborn child in my belly, a king, gestating and brooding and nourishing new and royal life from within? Or what can I see as Merlin in his cave or tower, looking up and down time itself, living backward as in T. H White’s version of the Arthurian boyhood story, The Sword in The Stone?

Then to close the rite, the meditation: “And now have I returned.” A simple formula, but helpful, to ground the meditation, to signal a shift of reality. (Return is as important as departure.) Open your eyes, and record what you experienced. In this way, over days and weeks, you build an increasingly persuasive document that can help loosen the hold of the illusion of this time, this place. Each time I sit to meditate, the pages telling of my previous journeys in front of me, the grip of illusion eases. For these two things, time and space, can be potential gifts, or they can remain prison walls. They’re a choice, if I choose them, rather than a given, if I merely accept them.

The Seeker from Matthews' deck. The Rainbow Path we're all on ...

The Seeker from Matthews’ deck. Before us all lies the Rainbow Path.

Figures as diverse as Henry Ford and physicist John Wheeler get credit for versions of the saying “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” It’s a way of ordering experience, making it intelligible to human consciousness. And so is space, which — to follow through on the whimsically powerful definition and construct its corollary — “keeps everything from happening here.”

Starting small, with the trick, if you will, of imaginative magic, will begin to unfasten the iron clasps around consciousness. It’s just one way, of course. Traditions in and outside of a whole range of religions and spiritual paths offer many tools and strategies for accomplishing this change, if we wish it. But these particular images and this story have spoken for a thousand years to many people, and the Arthurian drama that can be a mirror and key to our mortal and spiritual lives shows little sign of a diminishment of its power to move and inspire — and transform. Sleeper, whispers a whole nation of people inside each of us that we have been and are being today and will be someday, a multitude of selves. Sleeper, awaken to your crown and to your destiny.

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Images: Matthews’ Arthur, card 4; Matthews Sleeping Lord; Matthews’ Seeker (Fool in other decks) with three choughs (a raven-like bird) overhead.

*Note on pronunciation: The -gh- of the Cornish word myghtern “king” is essentially the same sound as in German “Bach” and close to English “h” in “aha!”: mikh-tayrn comes reasonably close for ritual purposes: AHR-thoor MIKH-tayrn ah VEH hahg ah VEETH.

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