Alban Heruin – The ghost of Arthur
“Modern research has not accepted the annihilation of Arthur. Timidly but resolutely the latest and best-informed writers united to proclaim his reality. They cannot tell when in this dark period he lived, or where he held sway and fought his battles. They are ready to believe however that there was a great British warrior, who kept the light of civilization burning against all the storms that beat, and that behind his sword there sheltered a faithful following of which the memory did not fail.” Winston Churchill
In the southern hemisphere, Alban Heruin, the tide of the Summer Solstice is upon us and the new civic year has already embraced us not beneath Mistletoe and Holly, but everlasting Oak, the tree once worshiped by Greeks and Romans as sacred to Diana – the Pagan Goddess of the King of the Woods, as retold by J.G. Frazer. That ‘strange and recurring tragedy’ in the Grove of Aricia, on the shores of ‘Diana’s Mirror’ recalls another recurring battle, a challenge for supremacy and lordship over human nature.
As Churchill wrote, “Wherever men are fighting against barbarism, tyranny, and massacre, for freedom, law and honour, let them remember that the fame of their deeds, even though they themselves be exterminated, may perhaps be celebrated as long as the world rolls round. Let us then declare that King Arthur and his noble knights, guarding the Sacred Flame of Christianity and the theme of a world order, sustained by valor, physical strength, and good horses and armor, slaughtered innumerable hosts of foul barbarians and set decent folk an example for all time.”
Actually, those Saxon and other “innumerable hosts of foul barbarians” slaughtered by a Christo-Pagan Celtic King were hardly more barbaric than most civilized men of their age. Anno Domini 441 “Twelve years passed and a Gaulish chronicler records this somber note in AD 441 or 442 ‘The Britons in these days by all kinds of calamities and disasters are falling into the power of the Saxons.’ Something more than the forays of the fourth century: the mass migration from North Germany had begun. Thereafter the darkness closes in.”
What appeared to elevate Arthur above his opponents, historians and authors will point out, was the chivalric notion of brotherhood (through the round table), of “freedom, law and honour” – and let’s not forget that true freedom for all in Britain itself was only secured much more recently, and not in any way due to King Arthur directly. So did this legendary King Arthur even exist?
The Historical Arthur
The earliest reference to a historic Arthur (the name is Roman) appears in a Welsh poem of c. 600, which states that another named warrior was ‘no Arthur’. An early 7th-century text lists 12 battles that Arthur is supposed to have won as leader of the native British. In the 10th-century Annales Cambriae, two of these battles are assigned dates in the first half of the 6th-century.
The earliest evidence of the development of the idea of a legendary British champion on which subsequent stories were constructed is found in the early 9th-century history attributed to Nennius. There have been interesting excavations designed to discover Arthur’s court. Ultimately, the only thing that can be said of the historic Arthur is that there may have existed a great soldier who temporarily halted Anglo-Saxon assault, but it is doubtful whether he was able to unite the British against the invaders.
In subsequent history there are two very different legendary King Arthurs. One is the warrior champion who led Britons in numerous battles against the invading Saxons, a distinctly Celtic hero. The other presided over a magnificent court, Camelot, and his deeds tended to be over-shone by those of his followers, the Knights of the Round Table. This Arthur is the ideal king, a model for any monarch of Britain, not necessarily one who was a Briton or a Celt. Any king who claimed lordship over the British Isles would be perfectly happy to look upon him as his predecessor.
By the early 12th-century, Arthur’s story was clearly well known in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, and one of its salient features was already established: the oppressed Britons dreamed of the day when King Arthur (like Cynan and Cadwaladr before him) would return and restore to his people their rightful dominion over the island of Briton.
This was the figure of Celtic legend whom Geoffrey of Monmouth transformed in the 1130s into the dominating personality of his historical fantasy, the History of the Kings of Britain. In Geoffrey’s hands, Arthur remained the British champion, but he also became much more. A conqueror of Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Gaul, he was the equal of Alexander and Charlemagne, and his court was a spectacular centre of international chivalry, love, courtliness and high fashion. When Geoffrey was translated into Anglo-Norman by Wace, these new elements rapidly became more prominent.
The Mythical Arthur
Modern Pagans drawn to the Arthurian legends tend to remember the story as told in its modern form, despite the lack of historical fact to support the intrigue and magick woven by Marion Zimmer-Bradley in The Mists of Avalon. Some are drawn to the image of the warrior, others to that of the Druid or the High Priestess of the Goddess of Avalon. Still others are drawn to the tale not because of the actual physical battles between the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons but because of the philosophical and religious ones being waged between Christianity and Paganism. To some the mysteries of Arthur and the Quest for the Holy Grail are representative of the struggle to regain a unified identity and more importantly, an inspiring vision of unity that may lead cooperating communities of diverse men and women into a golden age of justice and freedom for all.
Alban Heruin means the Light of the Shore, that ‘place that is not a place’ between Earth, Sea and Sky where worlds collide and where the present renews herself perpetually from the past with eternal hope for the future. One element, and in the form of our local Sun, fire, with its spiritualized counter-part, light, represents the shimmering gateway to awen; to flowing inspiration, chiefly identifying us as a species forged like the blade of the mythic Excalibar through generations of sorrow and strife to attain understanding and compassion.
A renewal of the post-modern age in which we live coincides with a revival of Pagan belief systems and values and Pagans, like everyone else, are looking to be inspired, to hope, to dream of a brighter and better future for all of mankind. The legendary figure of Arthur and the symbolic tools of Chalice, Platter, Sword and Staff inspire new generations of magick workers and ‘walkers between worlds’. The inspiring light of the mythic otherworld lives and breathes in every land, including Africa, where the traditions of diplomacy, honour and chivalry are well learned. It lives in the stories people tell to others and it breathes new life into the earth and Her children every day.
Amidst the blowing winds of change and the shifting sands of time, the receding waves of solar light casts subtle eddies of remembrance at every trough, at every meeting point where water and earth and air meet in a spiral dance. There the flame dances brightly, pointing always to the essential liberty of the soul of every living creature, and reminding of the duty of every individual to strive toward sharing the precious gifts of the Grail; the knowledge that all men can and must be free to pursue happiness and fulfillment in all good things.
In some versions of the Arthurian legend, Vivien, the Lady of the Lake, or Morgainne, Arthur’s sister, or both, sit beside the dying Arthur as his boat drifts across the sacred waters of the Island lake toward the shore of the orchard of Apples, a fruit associated in every great cosmology with immortality and divinity, and a place associated in every way with the Otherworld. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Unlike a former age where might alone proved and made right, the guiding ethical principles of good governance quested for by knights of the African renaissance, by men and women of the twenty-first century, are in every way nobler and fairer reflections of the contents of a Grail only briefly glimpsed by a warrior king. In an age of renewing light, the stone of kingship is being renewed to be shared by all equally.