So Spake Mo…
Albion. The name of the isle in the time of the Greeks gods, the isle populated by the sons of Albion, the giants.
Britian. The name of the isle in the time Trojans, when Brutus of Troy conquered the giants and settled there after years of war and exile, bequeathing it his name.
The island nation that once ruled as far as her boats could take her. It is a place where myth and history intertwine in a rich, misty landscape all too conducive to growing stories larger that the lives that might have originate them.
photo credit: (c) skinnyde
Arthur. Whether he rose from dream or flesh, he rose in a time when the Celts needed a hero to cling to. When the bands of Saxon mercenaries invited by Lord Vortigern became the swarms of Saxon invaders, when the Celts lost their homeland to these invaders, Arthur became the light, the courage, and the memory their righteous last stand against the godless savages.
We all know how creative memories can be.
Especially when we NEED to believe.
And we have always needed to believe. More story than history, only the vaguest scraps of historical data remain from this time of limited literacy and endless siege to provide any glimpse of the basis for the King Arthur legend. Was he, Artúr mac Áedáin, the son of a Scotch-Gaelic warlord? Was he, Arturus, the anthropomorphization of a forgotten ancient Welsh bear god immortalized in Ursa Major? Was he, Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Romano-Briton of noble parentage orphaned during the Saxon invasion? Was he, King Arthwyr ap Meurig ap Tewdrig, a Welsh King of the House of Bran? Was he, Lucius Artorius Castus, a Roman cavalry commander from the Scythian steppe?
photo credit: Gustav Dore from Lord Alfred Tennyson's The Idylls of the King
We can’t know truly know.
And yet we carry forward 1,500 years the mythological memory of this man as a symbol of the golden age of Albion.
Albion. The land of giants, of giant dreams and giant possibilities of the best humanity can achieve.
Arthur. The leader who fought at our sides to preserve this golden dream. The leader, who, despite his fall, despite our own fall into darkness through the weaknesses of our humanity, promises to return in our hour of greatest need.
We wait. We dream. And in our dreams we find our hope.
Albion: the promise of the Once and Future King.
image credit: Edward Burne-Jones
So Spake Me…
The King Arthur myth has always fascinated me. For the story to have survived so long, so vividly in the collective mind of Western culture suggests to me that beyond the smaller, specific tales contained within it—the battles, the quests, the trials, and the loves won and lost—the King Arthur story contains a very special vessel: a promise.
image credit: Chretien de Troyes (Keith Busby, Terry Nixon, Alison Stones, Lori Walters, ed), Sir Thomas Malory, Marion Zimmer Bradley
That sounds so small and simple, but truthfully it is as large as the infinite human imagination. That vessel carried the dreams of the conquered Celts in Arthur’s own supposed day; it carried the dream of an idealized courtly world in the medieval/early renaissance days of Chretien de Troyes and Sir Thomas Malory; it carried the dream of feminine power in the more modern day of Marion Zimmer Bradley.
image credit: (c) BBC/Syfy Channel - The Adventures of Merlin
And then there is today. Here and now, when we receive the story once more through the eyes of Merlin from the BBC, it doesn’t matter that it isn’t high literature. What matters is that this ancient vessel carries forward the dreams of a new generation in the language of their own storytellers.
What I find most fascinating is which dreams this generation chooses to lay in the chalice. While I watch with my children, I see many: The dream that should the child strive hard enough, he can overcome a broken home, an unredeemable father and go on to become a good, even great human being. The dream that should the child stand resolute in her convictions and steadfast despite overwhelming wrongs, her wisdom will raise her up to a place of respect and admiration. The dream that we might all have the chance someday to cleave to an unwavering friend, one who stands by us throughout the nightmare days, and reminds us relentlessly of all we are capable of being.
In a time when so many feel lost, isolated by the trauma of a broken family, cut off by insurmountable debt, shut away by a social media society, these dreams of rising above, of finally being seen for who we truly are, of being valued soul-deep by a friend we can trust until death-do-us-part, these dreams are the chivalry of our own age.
image credit: Arthur Rackham from Alfred W. Pollard's The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
Even 1,500 years later, we still need to believe.
We still need to believe in the promise of Albion, in the promise of the Once and Future King.
And the promise is simple:
Humanity can achieve amazing, beautiful heights, and though we may fall, we will find our way to rise up once again.
image credit: Edward Burne-Jones, The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon
King Arthur: The History, The Legend, The King
The Development of Arthurian Legends
The Origins of Arthur
The Story of Place