Monday 29 April 2013

On a Man, a Sword, a Dragon, and a Head...

In honour of the Feast of St. George, I'd like to look at a few myths that are inter-related.  I wanted to get this posted on the day of the feast, April 23, but it didn't happen.  But here it is now for your reading pleasure.

We start, of course, with the myth of St. George and the Dragon itself, as is fitting for the time around his feast.  Not a lot is known historically, but the legend grew with the telling as is often the case.

The legends of St. George are often contradictory, or at the least impossible to verify.  All that is truly know for certain is that his cultus dates back to the time he was said to live, around the time of Constantine.  The summary we can get from the oldest sources and consistent points, that are more than likely historically true is that St. George suffered and was martyred near Lydda (aka Diospolis) in Palestine.  Beyond that, little is known.

The early versions of the Acts of St. George from the fifth century do not include the famous story that first comes to mind, the slaying of the dragon.  These versions do include a king, King Dadianus, who has the epithet "dragon", translated as "asp-serpent" in the Syriac versions.  It wasn't until the twelfth century that the symbolism became literal in the myths.

From the early versions of the Acts, and from a few other sources, the myth, whether based in reality and accurate or not, paint a story for us.  They describe George as being born the son of Count Anastasuis and Countess Theobaste in Cappadocia, on June 11, 228.  His father died when he was ten and he and his mother moved to Palestine, where she was originally from and still owned land.  George joined the Roman Legion a few years latter, sometime between 245 and 313, where he became quite a successful soldier and leader, gaining the rank of Tribune, with about a thousand men under his command.  When he was about twenty, George returned to Palestine to request his father's lands and title be given to him.  The king of Palestine was King Dadianus, mentioned above, and it was he that George had come to make his request to.  On arrival, however, George found Dadianus worshipping idols (the Acts are written from a fifth century perspective; the time it would have taken place, few leaders would have been Christian, but by the time it was written most would have been), had forsaken God, and where persecuting Christians.  George was outraged, and decided he would now serve as a soldier of Christ.  He dismissed all his servants, and gave his considerable wealth to the poor, and went before the king naked with nothing.  He cried out to the King and the other governers (there were 69 with him, so 70 in all), "Cease your frenzy, O governors, and proclaim not to be gods the things which are not gods; let the gods who have not made heaven and earth perish! As for me, I will worship one God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit."  It is here that Dadianus is first called the dragon (later he is called the dragon of the abyss).  The king responds, to summarize, we worship the gods of Roman, though in many more words.  George proclaims this as wrong, and Dadianus has him tortured for seven years.  During this time, George is killed three times, once by being chopped into little bits, once by being buried in the earth, and once by being burnt and consumed by the fire.  Each time he is resurrected by God.  During these seven years, he healing the blind, sick, and lame, showed people where to dig for buried money, and brought people back from the dead, as well as converting 28,000 people including Queen Alexandra, Dadianus' wife.  On April 23, 255, his feast day, at seven PM, he is killed a fourth time.  He was brought before the governors, called down fire from heaven that consumed all of them and five thousand of their soldiers, say a vision of Christ saying he would take him heaven, asked the executioners to perform what had been commanded of them, and was beheaded.  Water and milk came from the wound instead of blood.  Christ took him to heaven, and there were earthquakes and thunder and lightning.  (For details, read the Acts of St. George; here's E.A.W. Budge's translation of one version, from 1888:

There are a lot of elements in this story that could be addressed, but I will limit to a few.  First, the salvation of Queen Alexandra and the killing of Dadianus, the "dragon", and, second, the beheading.  Of note beyond these, which I'm not going to go into but would like to mention, are the parallels between George and Elijah, the parallels between him and Christ, the number of governors, his three deaths by blade, earth, and fire, and the effects and details of his death including the milk and water, the earthquakes, and the thunder and lightning.

I will focus first on the salvation of Alexandra and the killing of Dadianus, as this is of later the story of note.  But first, we will look at a later legend.  There are many versions of this later legend as well, some quite long and detailed, others straight to the point.  I will give you the version from J.E. Hanauer's Folk-Lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian, and Jewish, published in 1907:

There was once a great city that depended for its water supply upon a fountain without the walls. A great dragon, possessed and moved by Satan himself, took possession of the fountain and refused to allow water to be taken unless, whenever people came to the spring, a youth or maiden was given to him to devour. The people tried again and again to destroy the monster; but though the flower of the city cheerfully went forth against it, its breath was so pestilential that they used to drop down dead before they came within bow-shot.

The terrorized inhabitants were thus obliged to sacrifice their offspring, or die of thirst; till at last all the youth of the place had perished except the king's daughter. So great was the distress of their subjects for want of water that her heart-broken parents could no longer withhold her, and amid the tears of the populace she went out towards the spring, where the dragon lay awaiting her. But just as the noisome monster was going to leap on her, Mar Jiryis appeared, in golden panoply, upon a fine white steed, and spear in hand. Riding full tilt at the dragon, he struck it fair between the eyes and laid it dead. The king, out of gratitude for this unlooked-for succor, gave Mar Jiryis his daughter and half of his kingdom.

This is of course the legend of St. George and the Dragon, or one version of it.  Mar Jiryis is the Anglicized version of the Arabic name for St. George.  On the surface, this looks like a very different tale with only the name in common, though I'm sure the context I gave it in provides some pointers to see the parallels, or see how the tale developed.  The epithet in the older version very obviously developed into this dragon, so the dragon is Dadianus.  It's not surprising that his worship of Roman Gods became his possession by Satan himself, as this is a fairly common motif.  His devouring of the youth or maiden clearly comes from his persecuting of Christians (the "pure") in the older tale.  The fountain is likely Palestine, which in the original Dadianus ruled, now a fountain held hostage.  His pestilential breath is likely the "poisonous" words he spoke in the older tale.  Here's where it gets a bit less obvious.  In this tale, George kills the dragon, saving the princess, and is given her hand and half the kingdom in gratitude.  In the original he dies, and there is no princess, no marriage, no kingdom given.  But if we look deeper, we see it.  Queen Alexandra becomes the princess.  In the original, she is converted to Christianity, saving her from Dadianus' idolatry, but dies a martyr for it.  Here, instead, she is saved from the dragon to live, the dragon being Dadianus, as before.  St. George in the original dies, but is given a place in Heaven.  The original wording describes Christ inviting him up to heaven where a dwelling was prepared for him in the kingdom of Christ's father.  George's forwarding the cause of Christianity and going to a dwelling in the heavenly kingdom became him saving the kingdom and being given half of it to rule.

I'll come back to the beheading, but first I'd like to look at a couple related legends.

First, let's look at the tale of Sigurd and the dragon.  To set the mood, here is the passage relating the slaying of the dragon from J.R.R. Tolkien's Völsungkviða En Nýja:

In Busiltarn ran blue the waters, green grew the grass for grazing horse.
A man them minded mantled darkly, hoary-bearded, huge and ancient.

They drove the horses into deep currents; to the bank the backed from the bitter water.
But grey Grani gladly swam there: Sigurd chose him, swift and flawless.

'In the stud of Sleipnir, steed of Ódin, was sired this horse, swiftest, strongest.
Ride now! ride now! rocks and mountains, horse and here, hope of Odin!'

Gand rode Regin and Gani Sigurd; the waste lay withered, wide and empty.
Fathoms thirty fell the fearful cliff whence the dragon bowed him drinking thirsty.

In deep hollow on the dark hillside long there lurked he; the land trembled.
Forth came Fáfnir, fire his breathing; down the mountain rushed mists of poison.

The fire and fume over fearless head rushed by roaring; rocks were groaning.
The black belly, bent and coiled, over hidden hollow hung and glided.

Gram was brandished; grimly ringing to the hoary stone heart it sundered.
In Fáfnir's throe were threshed as flails his writhing limbs and reeking head.

Black flowed the blood, belching drenching him; in the hollow hiding hard grew Sigurd.
Swift now sprang he sword withdrawing: there each saw other with eyes of hate.

~Völsungkviða En Nýja V:22-29, The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún, J.R.R. Tolkien

The tale, whether Tolkien's version or the original, basically tells (leaving a lot out) how Völsung had twin children, Sigmund, his oldest son and Signy, his only daughter, and nine other sons.  He built his hall around an oak tree, Barnstokkr.  He attempted to marry his daughter off to Siggeir, King of the Geats.  His sons approved, but his daughter didn't.  At the marriage feast, a stranger appears.  He is a tall old man with a hoary beard, and a large brimmed hat shadowing one eye.  He pulled out his sword, and the everyone got ready to attack him, but instead of attacking anyone, he drove it into the oak tree.  He told them only he who was worthy of the sword could pull it out, and that it would serve whoever did well.  Everyone at the feast tried to pull it out, but could not.  Sigmund, though, tried and succeeded with no effort.  Siggeir wanted the sword and tried to buy it from Sigmund, but Sigmund refused.  Siggeir, angry, swore vengeance on the whole family, and left for home, inviting the family to join him to finish the feast at his house when the winter was over.

They went to his land three months later.  Signy warned them it was an ambush, but they went in anyway, and were defeat, Völsung killed and the ten sons captured.  Signy convinced Siggeir to spare them, so he binds them out for the wolves to eat instead.  Or, more specifically, his mother who can shapeshift into a wolf.  For nine nights, she consumes a brother, which Signy tried to free them and Sigmund waited bound.  Signy smears honey on Sigmund's face, and the wolfmother licks it off, then sticks her tongue into Sigmund's mouth to get the honey there.  He bites of her tongue, kills her, and escapes, hiding in the forest, Signy bringing him supplies in secret.  She tests her children by sending them to him.  When they failed the test, she urged Sigmund to kill them.  Finally, he'd have no more of it, so she disguised herself as a volva and goes to him and conceives a son with her brother, Sinfjotli.  He passes the test and together Sigmund and his son grow wealthy as outlaws.

Leaving out some parts, they come back and avenge Sigmund's father and brothers' death, killing Siggeir.  Later, he fights an old man, who turns out to be Odin (the man/god who drove the sword into the tree, and Sigmund's great-great-grandfather), and his sword breaks and he dies, giving the shattered to his wife Hjordis for his unborn son, Sigurd, to fix and use.

This is the context of the story of Sigurd.  Before I proceed to the tale itself, I'd like to reference back to my last post, A Graal, a Sword, and a Lance: second star to the right, and straight on till morning (  In the discussion of the Sword, I referred to the above story, to the sword Gram Odin put in the tree, which Sigmund pulled out.  It is clear in this tale that pulling the sword from the tree showed worthiness to wield it.  Likewise, in the tale to come, the fixing of the sword also shows worth, for Sigmund said only Sigurd would be able to fix it.  It's easy to see how this joined with the Graal myth, for in do Troyes' tale, the giving of the sword to Perceval indicated worthiness, and in the first continuation and forward, the fixing of the sword indicated the same.  This of course grew with the telling, losing the fixing aspect, and becoming a sword driven into a stone instead of a tree, Arthur's father Uther driving it instead of Sigurd's great, great, grandfather.  However, there is a possibility, though I haven't seen it stated anywhere, that this might not have been a merging of tales but a remerging.  Consider that de Troyes lived in the 1100s, in France.  Also consider that France was in reality the area controlled by the Normans, starting with Rollo gaining Normandy in 911 by swearing fealty to the Franks.  By the 1100s, they were well established.  The Normans, the descendants of Rollo and his kith and kin, were essentially Norsemen and Danes.  The Old English poem Beowolf, dating from sometime in the eighth to 11th century, and contains elements clearly parallel to this tale of Sigmund and Sigurd, so the story existed as early as that if not earlier.  The version we have in the Eddas was recorded in the 13th century, but there is a carving from around 1000 AD depicting the story.  It is very likely the Normans knew this story, and this might have been the source for de Troyes.

Anyway, back to Sigurd.

Hjordis goes to live in the hall of Alf, King of Denmark, and gives birth to a son, as Sigmund had said she would, naming him Sigurd.  He is raised by Reginn.

Reginn had two brothers, Fafnir and Otr.  Reginn is a smith, Fafnir is very strong, and Otr was a shapeshifter.  One day, Otr was playing by a river in the form of an otter when Odin, Loki, and Hoenir happened by.  Loki on a whim (as far as we know) kills the otter with stone, not knowing (as far as we know) that it was really Otr.  The Three skin the otter and take the skin to the house of Hreidmar, the father of Reginn, Fafnir, and Otr, showing it off.  Hreidmar, upset at the death of his son, captured Odin and Hoenir, telling Loki to fill the skin with gold and cover it with red gold, and he would release them.  Being cunning, Loki made a net and captured Andvari, who was swimming as a pike, forcing him to give him his gold and his ring, Andvaranaut.  Andvari cursed them, that they would destroy whoever had them, which suited Loki perfectly.  He gave the gold to Hreidmar, and the Three left.  Fafnir killed Hreidmar for the gold, and it corrupted him, turning him into a dragon (or serpent).

Reginn begins a series of tests for Sigurd.  First, he tells Sigurd to ask King Alf for a horse.  Sigurd comes upon an old man with a hoary beard in the forest.  Sigurd asks the old man to come with him to help him choose.  They go to where King Alf's horse are grazing, and the old man tells him to drive the horses down to the river.  The two of them do so, and all but one of the horses swims back to land.  The one that did not was a gray horse, and the old man told him it was Sleipnir's kin, descended from Odin's own horse.  The horse had never been ridden, but Sigurd names it Grani and mounts it without an issue.  The old man is, of course, once more Odin.

Reginn begins making swords for Sigurd.  Each one, Sigurd struck an anvil with and it broke.  Sigurd then goes and gets the broken pieces of Gram and brings them to Reginn.  Reginn, the smith, reforges the sword, and this time, the sword cut the anvil in two.  Sigurd then placed a piece of wool in a stream and the current pushing the wool against the sword cut the wool in two.

Reginn then sends Sigurd to kill his brother Fafnir, the dragon.  He told him about the gold and told him that because Fafnir is now a dragon, the gold rightly belongs to him.  They went out into the Wasteland to the area Fafnir was.  Reginn directed Sigurd to build a pit and cover himself up and wait on the path Fafnir took to a stream to drink.  He did so, but Reginn ran off, afraid.  While Sigurd is digging, the old man with a hoary beard shows up and directs Fafnir to dig trenches for the blood of Fafnir to run into.  Sigurd waits in hiding, and when Fafnir comes, he jumped out and stabbed Fafnir in the shoulder, mortally wounding him.  The two talk, and Fafnir tells Sigurd Reginn would kill him for the gold, and that all who have it will die.  Sigurd replies that all men die one day, so we would take the gold with no fear.

Reginn returns and Sigurd cooks Fafnir's heart to eat, getting blood in his mouth in the process.  From the blood, he could understand the speech of birds, and heard Odin't ravens talking about how Reginn planned to kill him for the gold.  From the heart, he gains wisdom adn prophecy.  He beheads Reginn and takes the gold.

On the journey back,  he finds a fire blazing.  Undaunted, we rides into the fire and finds at its heart a woman sleeping, dressed in armour.  He awakes her and finds out she is a skieldmaiden sworn to Odin (a Valkyrie in some tales), but was there as punishment from Odin because she chose to fight for Agnar, when he and Hjalmgunnar were fighting, knowing Odin favoured Hjalmgunnar.  Her name was Brynhildr.  Sigurd and her pledged themselves to each other, though she prophesied he would marry another and find doom.  He gave her a ring from the treasure hoard, possibly Andvaranaut, and left.

He eventually came to the house of Gjuki, whose wife Grimhild made an ale of forgetfulness to make him forget Brynhildr, and he married their daughter Gudrun instead.  Gudrun's brother Gunnar sought Brynhildr's hand, and Sigurd assisted him by taking on his form and riding through the flames, so that she married Gunnar.

In the end, Brynhildr's wrath and Gjuki's sons' greed ended with Sigurd's death.  Gunnar leaves the gold in a cave, and Andvari recovers it, but never finds Andvaranaut.

The simple parallels between St. George and the Dragon and Sigurd and the Dragon are of course obvious.  Both ride out, both kill the dragon.  George does so on horseback with a lance, Sigurd on foot with a sword.  But same motif.  The motivation, though, is different.  St. George does to save the city, and to free the water supply.  Sigurd does because Reginn wants his brother's gold.  It is interesting that Sigurd kills the dragon on its way to the stream to drink, a water supply, but this isn't a direct parallel, as the dragon wasn't keeping anyone from that water.  Also, the different weapon is of note, a sword and a lance, though this is more a matter of context.  Lances were later in Central Europe, in the North, they weren't as useful, and didn't exist at the time the tale of Sigurd would have come from, but were common for knights, which St. George is seen as, by the time of the St. George and the Dragon tale.  Likewise, you don't fight with a lance on foot, and a sword is more useful against a single opponent on foot.  For those that are paying attention, both a sword and a lance hold importance in de Troyes' Perceval tale.

But there's some interesting points if you pull in the older Acts of St. George.  The king in the original becomes a dragon in the later version, just as Fafnir becomes a dragon in the tale of Sigurd.  Dadianus and his governors are killed in the original for their idolatry, Fafnir (and Hreidmar, Reginn, Sigurd, and several other characters) are killed for their greed.  So the St. George tale and the Sigurd tale therefore both show something seen as a bad trait or action, and horrible consequences for it, a warning.  Also, it is interesting that the fire in the original St. George story only consumes the governors and their troops, St. George and the innocents are spared.  Likewise, only Sigurd on his horse could pass through the flames of Brynhildr's bower unscathed.  And there is a twist of wealth.  St. George wins great riches for his prowess as a soldier, but gives it all to the poor before confronting the "dragon".  Sigurd gains great wealth as a result of killing the dragon, but it leads to his own death.  We also have another twist, St. George is beheaded, and Sigurd beheads Reginn, St. George at his own request and the command of the governors, Reginn for his planned betrayal.  Same motif, but different circumstances and reasons.  We'll come back to the beheading.

I'd like to pull one more legend into the mix of Sigurd and St. George.  This is one I've discussed before (see, Michael and Lucifer.  The traditional day for this is of course Michaelmas, originally October 11, now September 29, the Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel.  Of note in this is Jude 1:9 in the Christian New Testament:

Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. ~Jude 1:9, KJV

This of course gives no details.  And there are no other early sources describing the struggle between them.  It is traditionally assumed when Jesus said "And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18 KJV) that it must have been in a struggle, and Michael must have kicked him out.  The parallel with Hephaestus being kicked out of Olympus and falling to the ground, giving him his limp, should be noted, though it isn't relevant here.

The iconography, though, depicts Michael standing over Satan, his foot on his neck,  a sword or spear, depending on the time period, raised and aimed at Satan's head.  There's some variation, but Michael is always above, always pointing the weapon, posed to strike.  This is significant, as the iconography for St. George and the Dragon portrays St. George above the dragon, with a lance, sword, or spear downward, either posed to strike, or already stabbed through.  This similarities between the images are striking.  Interestingly, images of Sigurd and the dragon almost always show them at the same level, or the dragon above.  Some newer images show it the other way, likely influenced by St. George and Michael.

It's important when making the parallel between Michael and George that the similarities in iconography is likely not by accident.  We find a story of Michael and a dragon in Revelations, an obvious reference to Jesus' statement in Luke:

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:  And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.  And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.  And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.  And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.  And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.  And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.  And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. ~Revelations 12:1-9, KJV

The third of the stars are traditionally seen as a third of the angels, following Satan, the great red dragon, and cast out with him.  The woman is of course Mary, the child Jesus, or, symbolically, the woman is Israel, who, after giving birth to Christ, was scattered in exile, the Wasteland.  And then we see Michael, with an army of angels, fighting the dragon, with the dragon, with an army of angels, fighting back, Michael prevailing and casting the dragon out, so he fell to earth.  This is of course the most clear image.

It's important to note, though not relevant here, that 2260 days is approximately the length of an Age in the Great Procession, so if the child was born at the beginning of the Age of Pisces, the woman is fed until the end of that Age.  "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' ~Matthew 28:18-20, NASB

So, we have Michael fighting a dragon.  Notice that the angels with the dragon receive the same fate, just as the governors with St. George's "dragon" in the original.  Notice also the parallel of the governor's idolatry and Satan deceiving the whole world.

In later art and lore, from the 10th century on, Michael is usually depicted with a sword, often flaming.  This imagery is a reflection of Genesis 3:

And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.  So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. ~Genesis 3:22-24

In Kabbalah and in much of Christian thought, this flaming sword is judgement (Geburah in Kabbalah).  It's important to note the parallel between the driving out of the man from the garden, the way blocked with a flaming sword, and the driving of Satan out of heaven by Michael, later depicted with a flaming sword.  Consider for a moment, that though later St. George is depicted with a sword, spear, or lance, that in the original he was unarmed, but called down fire in judgement.  And of course, only Sigurd could cross the flames around Brynhildr's bower.  Also consider the name of the sword that was Odin's, forged by Wayland the Smith, drawn forth but later broken in the hands of Sigmund against Odin, reforged by Reginn, and used to slay the dragon by Sigund.  The sword is named Gram, which translates to Wrath, meaning anger, but typically anger in response to a wrong done to you, in other words, judgement.  It's the same sword.

It's interesting to note that Sigurd, Sigurðr, comes from sigr meaning "victory", and varðr meaning "guardian".  Also, urðr is Wyrd, Fate, one of the Norns.  So his name can be seen as the Victory of Fate, Guardian of Victory, Victory of the Guardian, or the Fate that comes from Victory.  All these imply judgement, of Fate overcoming you, just as it did Sigurd, but also just as Sigurd was that judgement on Fafnir and Reginn.  His father, Sigmund, is sigr and mundr, mundr meaning protector, very much the same as guardian.

So, we have three tales, well, several versions of three tales, St. George, Sigurd, and Michael, all fighting a dragon.

But, what about the head?  What about St. George being beheaded, and Sigurd beheading Reginn?  Let's look at the head a bit.

One story of note is John the Baptist.  John proceeded Jesus, baptized (initiated) him, then was imprisoned by Herod.  Herod married Herodias (Aradia) his sister, and John spoke against this.  Herodias' daughter then dances before Herod and he grants her a boon.  At her mother's prompting, she asks for John's head on a platter, so it was delivered to her.  John's feast day is June 25th, originally the date of the Summer Solstice, opposite Christ's, on December 25th, originally the Winter Solstice.  (It's interesting to note the Feast of St. Michael near the Autumn Equinox and the Feast of St. George, near the Spring Equinox.)

Next, we have Mimir, in the North.  Mimir is an interesting character for many reasons.  He guarded a well at the root of the World Tree, called Mimir's Well.  He was the only one that drank from it, the waters of wisdom.  At this well, the Aesir would meet for council.  When Odin sought wisdom, he went to Mimir and exchanged his eye for a drink of the well.  Mimir's name means "the rememberer", or "the wise one".  Mimir comes from minni meaning memory, the same word Muninn comes from.  Similarly, Hoenir comes from hugr, the same word Huginn comes from.  This is interesting, for at the end of the Aesir/Vanir war, the Vanir Njord, Freyr, Freyja, and Kvasir (who was born of the salva of the Aesir and Vanir, and later killed by Fjalar and Galar, who made the Mead of Poetry from his blood mixed with honey) were exchanged for the Aesir Hoenir and Mimir.  The Vanir beheaded Mimir, and sent his head to Odin, who used it as an oracle.  It's of note that the Vanir were in pairs, brother and sister as husband and wife, Njordr and Njorun, Freyr and Freyja, and so on.  This is very similar to Herod and Herodias.  And the Vanir beheaded Mimir like Herod beheaded John.

And then we have Bran the Blessed, the son of Llyr.  Bran means Raven.  King Matholwch of Ireland requested permission to marry Bran's sister, Branwen, Bran consented, and they were married.  But at the wedding, Bran's half brother Efnisien killed Math's horses, because he was mad he wasn't invited.    Bran gave Math his cauldron that could restore the dead to life to appease him.  When Branwen was mistreated, her brothers went to rescue her, some things happen, fighting ensues, and the Irish use the cauldron to revive their dead as the fight.  In the end, Efnisien hides with the corpses and is placed in the cauldron, breaking it.  By the end, seven men survived, plus Bran with a mortal wound in his leg (much like the Fisher King in de Troyes' Perceval tale).  He instructs them to cut off his head, and they live for 80 years without aging, with his head, still able to speak like Mimir's, talking to them and teaching them.  It's buried on White Hill (note this is now Tower Hill, where the Tower of London is, with it's ravens that as long as they remain, the monarchy won't fall), with the statement that as long as his head remained, the island would never fall to invaders.  Later, King Arthur is said to have removed the head because he felt he alone was the protector of Britain. It's said that same year the island fell to invasion.

In these three myths, the beheading places an important role.  Though there might not be a direct parallel, the beheading of St. George and the beheading of Reginn both hold importance in their own context and being about the consideration of the significance of this common motif.


We have a man, or angel, overcoming a dragon.

We have a sword that brings judgement, wielded by the man or angel.

We have a dragon, which we overcomes with the sword.

And we have a severed head.

Sounds like the making of a myth to me.

~Muninn's Kiss

Saturday 20 April 2013

A Graal, a Sword, and a Lance: second star to the right, and straight on till morning

I talking to a friend yesterday while we were hiking.  It was a four or five mile hike at 6000 feet above sea level in three or four inches of snow up and down steep climbs, my calves hurt, and my face is as red as a lobster from the sun off the snow, ouch!.

I made a joke that he didn't catch as a joke and responded to seriously, I forget what it was now.  My I cued him in on the joke, he replied that honour only works if the other person isn't stupid.  I said not stupid, it's a matter of thinking about something a different way.

I continued by explaining that it's the same with riddles, most riddles are obvious and don't take much to figure out, the secret is to look at it in a different way, that looking straight on you can't see it, but step to the side, it becomes clear and obvious.

This is of course that way with the Mysteries as well.  They aren't hard, but without looking from the right direction, they are hard to see.

Take for example Perceval in de Troyes' unfinished Graal story, the source for all other such tales. In summary:

Perceval is emphatically instructed by his teacher not to ask too many questions and to remain silent and listen as much as possible.  Good advise in spirit and in many circumstances, but he took it to heart as Law, as a black and white rule (the way I tend to take boundaries, not as changing with circumstance, so I relate well to the young knight).  When he comes to the castle of the Fisher King, he sees the procession of the Graal carrying the church wafer back and forth throughout the feast, the Sword, and the Lance that bleeds, the three elements of what can be called the Graal Mysteries.  He wants to ask about them but remembers his teacher's admonitions and remains silent, never asking the questions that burn on his mind.  The rest of the myth relates the consequences of not asking, of having Fate before him and not grasping a hold of her, of how wretched he is for not asking, of his five years of wasted life before he finds the Hermit King, of how his asking could have healed the Fisher King and healed the land, restoring the Wasteland to what it was before, and most of all, the revealing of who Perceval truly is, and who the Fisher and Hermit Kings are.

Consider these three elements the occur throughout the Graal myths and the Arthurian Legends and into modern fiction and modern traditions.  They change, but what they represent remains the same.  And it's that which the represent that are the Mysteries.  I will not explain the elements here, but will talk a bit about them.

First, we have the Graal, which became the focus of the Quests.  In this first tale, it is a serving dish, like one meat would be carried out on.  On it is one church wafer, the body of Christ.  In this first tale, it is carried back and forth many times, the wafer on it as it passes through the room, returning without it.  The question that wasn't asked is whom is this wafer served to?  The Graal at this point is the vessel, not the focus.  The wafer isn't even the focus, it's the person being served, the unseen person.  As it progressed in later tales, the focus changes to the dish, and it takes on the role of serving the feast hall with large fish.  And it changes again, taking on the guise we now see, a goblet or chalice, that will heal whomever drinks of it, and this becomes the Fisher King, or King Arthur, or both, depending on which story you look at.  But in the first tale, the person being served by the Grail ate from it repeatedly and was never healed, so drinking from it is obviously the wrong direction.  Healing is in the question.  How this works and the reason for it is of course the Mystery behind the myth.

Next, we have the Sword.  In this first tale, it is just mentioned when passing through in the procession, but appears again when it is brought to the King, who bestows it on the knight.  It is possibly two swords in this myth, as the sword is just mentioned as it is carried back and forth, but the sword presented is said to have just arrived.  Perceval is told the next morning to beware the sword for it will break in his time of greatest need in battle, but no more mention is made of the sword in de Troyes' tale, possibly because it was never finished.  In the first continuation, though, the author of that story brings it back in, showing it broken.  Worthiness for the Graal is shown by repairing it, a smith skill of course.  Gawain repairs it three times, breaking it in between.  The last time, he can't completely repair it, there's a nick in it.  This is said to mean he hasn't reached his full strength and isn't worthy yet.  He leaves and he healed the Wasteland but not the King.  This motif of repairing the broken sword continues in later myths until it merges with the story of Odin's sword Gram, which he drove into a tree and none could pull it out until Sigmund did, this became the sword in the stone, that pulling the sword out marked worthiness to be king, something Arthur of course did.  But the original myth talked of the importance of the Sword, and the warning of when it would break, not on the repair or retrieval of it.  Once again, we need to look at it from a different angle to see the Mystery behind the myth.

Finally, we have the bleeding Lance.  In this first tale, it carried at the back of the procession, then it is presented for the young knight to see.  It is a lance that blood continually drips from the tip of.  Nothing more is explained about the Lance, merely comment about how asking about it and the Graal would have healed the Fisher King and healed the Land and revealed who Perceval truly was.  In the first continuation, it appears hung on a wall with a silver basin collecting the blood, but nothing more was said.  Later it joins with the spear the Centenarian used pierce Christ's side, with Lugh's spear, and possibly Odin's spear.  Possibly this conflation occurred already.  It later became Rhongomyniad (meaning roughly Spear-Slayer or spear that slays, later Rhongomiant or Ron), but did not continue much in Arthurian Legend.  As the Spear of Destiny, it has continued in other genres, but the element of the bleeding tip has been lost, and is the place to focus to find the Mystery behind the myth.

It is interesting that the Spear of Destiny is seen as an instrument that when yielded allows you to change the destiny of the world, when you consider a quote concerning Fate and the Graal in Cochrane's second letter to Joe Wilson:

Some groups seek fulfilment in mystic experience - this is correct if one does not forget the duty of 'involvement' - the prime duty of the wise. It is not enough to see The Lady, it is better to serve Her and Her will by being involved in humanity, and the process of Fate (The single name of all God's is 'Fate'). In fate, and the overcoming of fate is the true Graal, for from this inspiration comes, and death is defeated. There is no fate so terrible that it cannot be overcome - whether by a literal victory gained by action and in time, or the deeper victory of spirit in the lonely battle of the self, Fate is the trial, the Castle Perilous in which we all meet to win or to die - Therefore, the People are concerned with Fate --for humanity is greater than the Gods', although not as great as the Goddess. When Man triumphs, fate stops and the Gods are defeated - so you understand the meaning of magic now. Magic and religion are aids to overcome Fate, and Fate is a cradle that rocks the infant spirit. (

So, the Graal is the overcoming of Fate, or the Graal is in the overcoming of Fate.  And the Lance turns Destiny in the direction the wielder chooses.  And the Sword determines worthiness, points out Fate.  All interesting, but just sidelines of course.

But Cochrane brings us back to the original discussion of looking at humour or a riddle or the Mysteries from a different angle, in a different way.  In his third letter to Joe Wilson, Cochrane had the following to say:

Obviously you wish to know how one asks correctly - This is known as 'Approaching or Greeting the Altar'. There are many altars, one is raised to every aspect you can think upon, but there is only one way to approach an altar or Godstone. There is a practice in the East known as "Kundalini", or shifting the sexual power from its basic source to the spine and then to the mind.

Cattle use this principle extensively, as you will note if you creep silently up to a deer or a cow - since there is always one beast that will turn its back to you, and then twist its neck until it regards you out of its left or right eye alone. It is interpreting you by what is laughingly known as 'psi' power and that is how an altar is used - with your back to it, and head turned right or left to regard the cross of the Elements and Tripod that are as sacred to the People as the Crucifix is to the Christians.

Before you do this however, it is necessary to offer your devotions and prayers by bowing three times to the Altar, with arms crossed upon your chest and then turn about the Altar (which for normal purposes should be round, hence King Arthur) the number of the Deity you are invoking or praying to. The Maid is usually three times three - the Mother six times three, the Hag (which is anything but the true title), nine times three. Upon the last turn stop with your back to the Altar, and there begin your great chant. With a group one works in absolute silence, but by yourself it is easier to utter your prayer and meditation aloud until you begin to speak as one possessed'.

Upon this point you will feel as if you are near a great bell that has begun to toll - this is the point of mysticism and magic - then you can achieve what you desire - do not be afraid, since it will feel as if you are in a boat on a stormy sea, and your body and spirit will part company, so that you will feel sensations of being in two different places at once. then you may journey to them and they will answer you when you are ready - but not before - so there is a long path of work, experience and failure ahead of you. They will also teach you what you need to know - but never confuse what you want with what you need, or else they are loathe to help. It is better to find an old sacred place and work there - rather than attempt it in the places of man. There is sure to be one place within six miles of you - usually in your case an Indian burial ground or stone ring. (

This description, specifically the idea of facing away and looking back over the shoulder, describes in physical action what I'm describing in mental action.  You won't see the Mysteries looking at them straight on.  You will only see them when you change your perspective and look from a different angle, over your shoulder as it were.  And then you will see it, and wonder why you didn't before.  For it was right there in front of you.  Be it a joke, a riddle, or the deepest of all Mysteries.

~Muninn's Kiss

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