I have a very dear American friend who came over to these isles last summer to undertake a pilgrimage of sorts; what turned out to be quite the epic journey through England, Scotland, Ireland and beyond, on a trail of self-discovery through ancient landscapes. Her writing (which I heartily recommend) about this trip has just been published and I find myself in awe of the synchronistic experiences she had and all she has gleaned from them.
She invited many of us to share any “hits” or reactions we had to the information she shares and this was one of mine, which felt worth sharing here since it feels, in many ways, like something I was overdue to write more about, having touched upon it a handful of other times, so I thank her for the prompt. That thing which gained a distinct reaction from me, in her second installment – and I hope she doesn’t mind me using this as the springboard for my own thought noodles – is that she makes this bold statement: “I have no doubt that the actual home of the “once and future king” known as Arthur, the Grail Knights, and the true isle of Avalon, are in Scotland. It is clear that those wielding oppressive and mighty powers, imposing Christianity by force on this ancient and wild homeland of the pagans and Druids ~ those who ultimately ruled the land that would become England ~ had rewritten history and claimed the Arthurian legends as their own”.
When I read this, I felt a rise in myself and not because I am English but because it did not lie well with what I feel I know; which is that he was neither Scottish nor English, that he hailed neither from Wales nor Brittany (all these theories litter the internet, along with the more vague, if diplomatic, contention that he was a Romano-British warrior charged with defending the Britons against the Anglo-Saxons). Rather I sense that, in essence, he was “of” all of these places and more thus, in a sense, none of them; not so much as a flesh and blood man but, carried on the wings of a long-running oral tradition, a representative used to keep alive an ideal through what were extremely challenging times.
I feel this not only because the way people moved, and how what we think of as distinct locations and cultures intermingled back then, defies our modern understanding; so we really have little grasp of how closely, say, the isle of Iona linked to Ireland, Cornwall, France and beyond…but because I feel it as a “given”, deep in my soul. How do I know this? I just know with my deepest intuition that “Arthur” and “Camelot” are without one particular geographical placement…but I didn’t realise I knew this so strongly until I read my friend’s post. I share this not in the spirit of contradicting her but that of using our respective experiences to expand and develop our thinking even further than we are able to take it, going solo; and I even know that, at some other level, she agrees with me since she likes to play with the fluid as much as I do. Over many years, this has been the beauty of how we “work” together, bouncing ideas around in what feels like such an alchemical partnership, whipping each other up to higher and higher points of self-understanding through the synchronicity and, no less, the dichotomy of some of our individual experiences. Her journey took me with her along all these way points and then it hit this one stumbling block, which ignited something strong in me that was, until that point, indistinct and unclaimed so I thank her for that rise. Suddenly, I had all of the following to share on this universal topic; really, it wrote itself and, yes, these really are universal themes since these legends speak to our most fundamental human state and the precarious balance between our spiritual and physical aspects.
Like the story of Elen of the Ways which, in many ways, is “my” special passion, as the story of Arthur is to my friend, this story belongs everywhere and nowhere, hence its elusive mystique. Similarly, Elen (“the antered goddess” alluded to in my recent post), in essence, belongs to no single place and to all of them at once. She can be found anywhere that the feminine aspect is, which is in all places, deeply hidden or suppressed though she may seem to be at times (which is the story within the story, since Elen’s legend is also about “hidden gold”). In her book “Finding Elen”, Caroline Wise gathers together essays that demonstrate how traces of Elen can be “found” in the long-running stories, place names, ancient markings and cultural clues of numerous places, from Scandinavia to France, Greece, all around the British isles, Hungary, Russia and even further than those. I myself have found traces and hints of her from Wales (where her legend is strong) to Norfolk, Yorkshire, London and far away from these shores; most of all, I have found her in me.
Elen, for those who aren’t already familiar with her, is at once a goddess, a mother/feminine deity and a way-shower who lived in the forest, surrounded by animals and birds. In many versions, she lives with her far-more worldly male consort, who had first met her in a dream, sending representatives far and wide to find her, then travelling a very long way to be by her side, sacrificing his worldly trappings in return for experiencing harmonious marital bliss in her natural domain. That wedded state is closely linked with the prosperity and health of the land…taking care of Mother Earth; their role, in equal partnership, being to serve as respectful custodians of the natural environment whilst living in it, being provided for by it and allowing it to be all that it, most organically, is without undue interference. Inherent in all of this is the view that when you take ownership of something (even of a concept, such as “Arthur was Scottish”), you limit that thing, clipping off all the other ways that it might have manifested.
So, she granted her new consort sovereignty (something she had never before been prepared to grant to another, preferring to be on her own rather than to grant powers that would be abused), which made him her equal counterpart. He, in return, undertook to be the guardian of the lands, and of her, as a respectful carer and protector, not as their owner or controller. He could not hope to be her, as in, seek to usurp her, since she possessed quite different qualities to him and he respected that; but then she benefitted from his unique gifts and, together, they became more whole. You could say, he was the grail that served as cup to her essence; holding her, and all she represents, tenderly so that she could continue doing what she did best. Together, these two were in raptures; when separate, his world turned to destitution and she remained incomplete; this story is as universal as they come.
Many such references…as Elen…Elena…Elyn…Endelyn (linked to cows rather than deer)…Helen…Helena…Ilona…Nehellenia (common root meanings for these words are “Mother of Life” and “deer/elk” – please refer to my reindeer post for more on this ancient deer-goddess connection) can be found across different cultures, always associated with the ancient pathways of the deer and thus strong hints towards a more nomadic life (the counterpoise to the “fixed” way of life associated with the masculine). This way of life has movement built into it; and yet it has nurture, stability, good husbandry, prosperity and all other good qualities associated with living in close partnership with nature; not in ownership or abuse of it. Those pathways with which Elen is assoicated are said to be pathways of gold; a sort of yellow brick road you might say, and she their eternal guardian…
Yet, as the story goes, it was with the help and expertise of her consort that those ancient roads were paved, making them far easier to traverse; a harmonious balance of both worldly and more spiritual qualities (and, it should be noted that, as the story goes, when a turn of events led to those roads no longer being maintained, the result is a loss of soverignty and the ruin of the land). An analogy could be made between this and the way that healthy neurons allow the most instinctual, inexplicably healthful, impulses of wellbeing to be delivered to the cells of our body or how at first books, now the internet, allow pearls of timeless wisdom to be distribted to far more people than would otherwise have access to such teachings. The roads themselves are the feminine impulse to reach out, share and communicate; but their engineering and good maintence rely on the masculine urge to construct and even fortify. One without the other would not be nearly so effective; which is why we need both aspects, in collaboration, in order to thrive. In other words, Elen represents the flow that knows no limitations or boundaries across limitless space (you could say, spiritual knowledge, intuition, unconditional love), though always respecting and taking care of all those places she touches along the way, whist her partnership with the masculine makes those journeys more smooth, efficient and viable. Each have some unique quality that is contributed in equal part to the overall partnership (in a way that, to our detriment, has not been the case in our recent history); together making a sum that is far greater than their two individual parts.
Likewise, that golden grail of Arthur legend was never a cup to be passed around and then held on to, coveted, guarded, fought over by different people or far flung places seeking evidence that the story is most rightful “theirs”, like the way people once argued over religious relics. When we seek Arthur through the eyes and approaches of “history”, scouring for sources as “evidence” instead of feeling him out, we tip ourselves heavily towards the masculine and forget that he, too, had a consort; a female counterpart, equally a legend, her story perhaps more distorted, turned sour, even soiled by the twisting of the tale and the telling through masculine means. Rather, it was a cup which, like that which Jesus (Yeshua) passed around at the last supper, was to be held and then drank from by all the guests at the table, yes by Mary Magdalene (I hold to the opinion that she is yet another forgotten consort, conveniently tarnished and, of course, largely edited from the main part of the story, as his wife…) and yes, by Judas. Each got their turn, with no distinctions made; no one more rightfully holding it than another. It was passed around, from one to another, and was not white-knuckle gripped onto by anyone at that table; as a reminder, that we all get to hold the cup, to be the cup; surely this, in essence, was what Jesus was saying. Forget the cup, don’t obsess about the cup…you are the blasted cup!
As with Elen, those pathways of inner gold; deep gold, stored “under the foot” wheresoever you might happen to travel in your life, are really the treasure hoard stored deep within ourselves and, when we know that, we literally can’t go off track; our track could be anywhere and through any situation in life, even the most imperfect seeming “journey” or one that seems to stay anchored in one place for a very long time…and this is just so important to know. As my friend found, everywhere she went (being this tuned into her own inner gold), she found powerful synchronicities around every corner and was almost run off her feet joining dots of understanding everywhere she happened to go, because she couldn’t NOT find gold under her feet, being that switched on to it. Every place, every legend, ever remotest twist or turn in the tale or accidental placement of information was as though left there specifically for her on some sort of breadcrumb trail which became this most epic journey of personal discovery. This applies to all of us that tune into the Elen vibe, whether we are familiar with her legend or no; and bear in mind that some versions of that story depict her as being most particular about where she lived and loathe to leave it, though she still threw well-paved roads far and wide from her door in order to connect with the world. Yes, whether or not we even leave our own hearth to experience such a journey, or do all our travelling on the inside straight from our chair, this same thing applies…the path, as it were, “lights up” with gold, because we allow that it is there, within us, and thus we see it. Its like finding the buried hoard of many lifetimes and finally being handed the spade.
In my personal hypothesis, the story of Arthur was a gift that was left in many places, as an allegory to remind us of ourselves and the importance of seeking the overflowing cup within. No coincidence to me that the story seems to have been planted and then flourished in all the same places that people whisper about Jesus and Mary Magdalene passing through; the yin and yang sacred partnership that is, at once, external in its connotations yet really, once again, an inside job as the partnership of balance within ourselves. When we clip those two halves of the same nut kernel back together, we overflow like the ever-giving fountain of life, you could say the tree of life; that is, we overflow with all our very own life source, understanding, creativity and potential, drawn up through the roots of our connection to Mother Earth, into the heart processor at the very core of us and out through the crown, only to begin again, over and over like a torus; the cup that never runs dry. This essential “knowing” is crucial to our fullest understanding and, thus, experience of ourselves in human form (without it, we are like an empty husk leading a materially focused life); so reminders of it had to be planted in the soil of many (many) places and, yes, these stories have thrived the most where that soil is nearer to the surface…not buried under layers of urban concrete. Thus, its thrived where legends ring out as the fireside stories of folk who live close to the land; and where musical traditions have carried it on the wings of song for many generations; where farms and roads haven’t carved up so many fields, dismantling standing stones and ancient symbols that, as a result, are still in plain sight in some of these corners…So of course, it can be gleaned most clearly in the far west of England and Wales, in the remote highlands, in somewhat isolated Brittany; yet, really, the story lies more immediately accessible than that, wherever we happen to be…within our own heart.
Many years ago, as a girl flying purely on instinct, I found my own local version of this ancient reminder in the legend of Maid Marion and Robin Hood, though it was years later that I came to recognise Marion as another version of Elen with her consort and, yes, as Mary Magdalene kept alive in folklaw. Again, the same messages hold true; the couple live in absolute equality, close to nature, deep within the forest, amongst birds and animals, particularly the deer, and with a small band of like-minded souls (you could equally refer to them as disciples), living according to choices that are outside the mainstream culture of the time (so, “outlaws”); taking from the rich to distribute to the poor (sharing out fishes and loaves or equally, you could say, sharing words of wisdom and encouragement, songs and stories, art, blog posts, healing sessions, love…). This is what many of us are now doing with our lives but, most of all, we are seeking that idealised state of inner harmony that we sometimes feel ourselves getting close enough to touch; and when we find that, albeit ever-so briefly amidst lives that can be just so challenging, it feels as though our cup is overflowing with liquid gold. In those moments, we become the grail we have so-long been seeking.
The consistent reminder in it all is: never stop seeking to achieve that state, which lies within, perfectly in reach, and which will light each of us up – individually – when we get into it but which, once activated, will inevitably spill outwards, flowing freely into all our actions and deeds, touching the lives of others, to become a collective experience…and then the “land” will flourish again. Never stop walking that path of gold, which can only ever lead us where we are meant to be going and which will, ultimately, keep on leading us back to ourselves…perhaps a little wiser, more knowing of “who we really are” each time we return for a respite from all that busy “doing” and “seeking”. The irony in it all is that, when we “do” and “seek” a little less, we find we are suddenly there, with no effort whatsoever. Suddenly, in those moments, we find our fingers are wrapped around the overspilling grail of ourselves and its as though we are being blessed by a radiant force of love; what my friend so beautifully refers to as the Christo~Sophia (not masculine or feminine, but both together) embodied. I agree with her fully in this; we are here to be this fusion as ourselves now, this is what all those stories led us back to. Its been a long journey…
This, in my opinion, is the reason for the long-standing fascination with Arthur and the Holy Grail (no less in my life); we could never have held such long-running interest in anything that lay outside of ourselves since fashions and cultural trends have far too much sway on what we deem to be of value “out there” in the world. Not even a legendary person that we wish to know more about could have kept us trekking so long and so hard; we are far to invested in matters of self-interest for that. The only thing we would ever have sought this tirelessly, for as long as stories have been told, is ourselves, in a desperate effort to feel more whole, more finished and complete somehow, from within this rather bizarre and mostly ill-fitting seeming combination of body and soul that we apparently are. We have sought so very hard to be more comfortable than we currently are within this apparently limiting state of flesh and blood and the grail seemed to be our answer; well, yes, it is…it reminds us we are far more than a shiny vessel and that the contents, which never run dry, far outreach the sides of the cup. Like the vessel itself, the legends themselves are an instrument; a means for carrying something which is far less tangible and which will never be proven or located to a particular spot.
That vessel helps us to experience and, thus, to know what would otherwise be so lacking in substance as to be outside of even our most subtle human senses; and this is what the masculine aspect offers to the feminine, eternally. Yet, in matters such as this, we only need to know so much with our minds…enough to gain a gentle grasp on what we, otherwise, guide into our heart space to be understood more fully, without need for words. When we seek to know too much, to probe all the nooks and crannies, to label and cross reference everything, we lose what we sought to gain…left with a dead butterfly in a jar on a shelf…and this is the pitfall many of us are striving to get beyond now. I believe these old stories and clues were left there as a hint but were not ever meant to be exposed to hard academic pursuit, which is why I stepped away from the compulsion of taking that approach; it only ever got in my way. These days, I prefer to leave such legends soft and fluid, my own expertise (at best) wooly, which leaves them entirely free to land in my experience wherever they see fit.
Thus my quest is entirely personal and without location, just as we each seek our own “grail” in a myriad different ways; each to their own version of it. In my view, these stories were left there as guidance as to how to go about this epic personal quest with the least detours and cul-de-sacs. When versions of these stories play out for ourselves, in our ordinary lives, we are really remembering what we already know…which may be some of what I have just shared and may be even more that I have, as yet, missed but then the quest for a sense of wholeness or fulfilment, whatever we each deem it to be, is a lifelong undertaking and there is no neatly tied-off ending.
The point is to be aware, first of all, that we hold our own perfect sustenance in our hands and then to be prepared to hold that overspilling vessel to our own lips and drink thirstily from it (which sounds so obvious, but so many of us seem to withhold our own gifts from ourselves, for a variety of reasons). When we drink, first and foremost, from our own cup, our cup self-replenishes, constantly…to the point it, then, overflows, spilling out to inspire and touch the lives of many others. This is all we ever needed to seek; and the journey begins and ends from the same point, being us. It is the same for the next person, and the next, until we are like a never-ending sash made up of golden chalices, loop-the-looping around our planet, shining with the light of their inner knowing (which is what alchemises us and, our experiences, into purest gold).
Places that we go to may remind us of this; may jolt us more quickly into remembrance (or may seem disappointingly empty when we hoped to be ignited by them, waiting for a spiritual epiphany to occur from the outside of us…) yet, ultimately, our focus needs not to be so distracted, any more, by thoughts of far off lands or legendary characters of old. We can afford to stop fixating on hazy stories of lives that seemed far more epic than ours, working so-very hard to connect with an ancestry that is probably only urging us, in frustrated unison, to connect more fully with ourselves wherever we happen to be in our lives right now, not labouring all our efforts to connect with who we think we once were, or mingled with, centuries ago. These can be fun and distracting pursuits to dive into, and can even activate our deepest knowing or seem to encourage in us the courage or incentive that we once lacked; yet these were only ever the chess pieces in the long-running game of remembering, for ourselves, who we already are, and what we already know, in this permeation of ourselves.
Yes, I concede, our humanness sometimes needs these epic yarns; the trick being not to take them too seriously. By superimposing ourselves into them, they help us to visualise who we are, to then step more fully into our own hero/heroines journey. Reading about my friend’s epic journey has clearly done this for her and for me too, as her words vividly bring to life places where I have had my own powerful experiences, plus many that I have as yet to travel to. As much as the next person, I too love to dive down theoretical rabbit holes, yet I know the universe is sure to throw synchronicities my way whichever way I turn when I’m that lit up, since I’m on “the golden path” for as long as I am in my bliss…This is the paradox, there is no “ultimate” answer, no right or wrong, everything that happens is for me and will reaffirm my spin on things, as it does for all seekers. Perhaps this is the last laugh of the Arthur legend; it is like a hologram that meets the expectations of whoever seeks it out, appearing through the mists like Camelot on the horizon. I discover I have a whole pile of old books on this Arthur theme, when I look for them on my shelves, yet I find myself (this time) not wanting to go there, lest I confuse myself…was Camelot in London (“London’s Camelot and the Secrets of the Grail” – Christopher Street) or did Arthur live out his final years in Brittany with his nephew descendent of the Welsh version of Elen and her consort Magnus Maximus, as told in the Welsh triads (“Journey to Avalon: The Final Discovery of King Arthur” – Chris Barber & David Pykitt). Each and these and many more besides are convinced they have “cracked it”; which is, at once, such an endearing yet hazzardous trait of the human being…we have to have all the answers. Tongue in cheek, I find myself wondering if, perhaps, Camelot was some sort of roving mystery school sent out on tour into different locations, like the circus of its day; meant to embed these prototype thinkings into a whole generation, like scattering seeds. If I’ve got to such thoughts, its definitely time to switch off my brain; such compelling hypotheses can take you on such a dance…
In conclusion, my feeling is that legends such as Arthur and Camelot and, yes, Elen of the Ways, defy geographical placement; quite by design, and there seems to be a self-sabotaging tripwire involved when you try to get your brain involved in order to prove a location, which gets quite close to demanding “ownership”. When we do this, in my experience, its like the portculis clamps shut and you are left outside in the cold of your own deeper experience for having pushed so hard out of a desire to nail something in “fact”. The trick is to enjoy the experience…whatever the enlightening experience is…without having to own or label it.
However we choose go off on such trips of experience, even those more commonplace versions, we always come back home to our own fireside, eventually; where, now quite alone and with nothing to prove to anyone, yet newly in possession of a little more of what we always knew (though possibly obscured, or denied) about ourselves, we commit to the true alchemy of self-discovery…and so it is that we uncover the real, priceless treasure of ourselves and what we have remembered, and set reminders for, across many lifetimes. Perhaps the Arthur story is some sort of continuity device, a favourite yarn, that links all our many incarnations; hence the tug of such familiarity when we encounter it. Whatever it is that attracts us to it with such vehemence and recognition, I suspect it will keep us pondering at its elusiveness for all time and I say “good” as a world in which such legends were solved and put to bed would be a very dull world indeed!