The Scabbard and the Sword Part I – guest post by Marian A. Lee

Part I: The Sacred Warrior King

The first part of this blog discusses Arthur, the sacred warrior king, as the archetypal hero of British legend and his relationship within the Celtic mythological narrative.

More than any other works of fiction, except for fairy tales and mythological narratives, Visionary Fiction makes use of spiritual and psychological archetypes, as well as material symbolism to work on the subconscious in an attempt to bring realization of spiritual truths to the level of consciousness. For my generation (60+) of spiritual travelers it is tempting to think, “Ah, I have it now,” and then tell younger generations what they need to know of this special wisdom in order to “get it”. I would rather approach the wisdom of the scabbard and sword with an attitude of, “I’ve got a piece of the puzzle that I want to share”. Then it’s up to future generations to expand and develop it further to fit their needs and times.

Very little of this world has the staying power of mythology. This is due to its archetypal nature, which is found, as Jung points out, in the collective unconscious of humanity, and is therefore salient to all cultures. Archetypes are primal, such as the great mother/father, warrior, hero, fool, and purer (the eternal male child). Primal archetypes are reinvented and cast in different cultural stories throughout the ages. In western mythology, none is arguably more powerful and pervasive than the mythology surrounding King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Perhaps this is due to Arthur’s later twelfth century medieval personification as the resurrected Christ. Similar to the Christ story, the sacred warrior king and his chivalrous knights of the roundtable will return when the time is right.

This sacred warrior king encapsulates the archetypal hero like no other. And I say “encapsulates” because a wealth of imagery and narrative stories have been built up around him, situated firmly in the elemental/magical forces found in Celtic mythology. The Arthurian narrative is replete with supernatural beings, magical powers, entrapment, testing of one’s resourcefulness and mettle, and of course, the rapturous love and desire of the troubadour tradition passed on by the oral songs of the bardic poet.

The Arthurian narrative is also found in pre-Christian Celtic mythology in stories of young sacrificial gods such as Oengus, Merlin Emrys, and Segda Saerlabraid. The young gods, who serve in a sacrificial role, follow the story cycle of a mysterious conception, DC_king_arthur_Press1fosterage, and pre-destined fate. The sacred king is neither human nor divine but connected and sanctioned by the elements through his relationship with the Goddess of the Land, also known as Sovereignty. Their sacred union is a key feature of Celtic kingship. As such, the sacred king has not only a sacred obligation to the land but to magically empowering objects which he must guard and revere. These objects are called the Hallows of the land, given as gifts by the Goddess of Sovereignty to hold in trust for the entire kingdom.

The Hallows are charged with magical power and held in an Otherworld such as Avalon, where new kings must seek them to bring back to the kingdom to recharge the land. Each Hallow is representative of the four elements, therefore symbolic of the balanced kingship. The Hallows most often include the sword, staff or spear, the caldron or cup, and the stone – representing air, fire, water and earth, as well as the directions of east, south, west and north, respectively. They also relate to Otherworldly lands of the Faerie in addition to regions in Celtic countries such as Ireland. The Hallows were not only representative of the elements of the land but were believed by the Celts to be powerful manifestations of the gods and therefore not to be trifled with. This power was recognized and sealed within the fate of the sacred warrior king by means of the Elemental Pledge to destroy whoever does not keep faith with the sacred land.

This brings us to the two Hallows highlighted in this article—the sword (fire of creation) balanced by the scabbard, representing the cauldron or cup (water of wisdom). According to Gareth Knight who writes extensively on Celtic and Kabbalah symbolism, the sword and its scabbard represent among other things, Arthur’s spiritual integrity and mandated destiny—the spiritual connection to the land and his destiny to guard the Hallows for the kingdom to prevent the desolation of nature. In the end, through trickery by betrayal, ego and enchantment, Arthur loses his invincible power provided by the sword, Excalibur, and the ability to control his sacred destiny.

Merlin’s role is to compensate for Arthur’s blindness of his divine nature and advise him appropriately so that he fulfills his destiny. He asks Arthur whether Merlinhe prefers the sword or the scabbard. When Arthur, entranced by the power of Excalibur, replies he prefers the sword, Merlin takes him to task with the warning that the scabbard is worth ten of the sword because its magic will prevent him from losing blood, thus making him invincible in battle.

However, Arthur’s preference and obsession remains focused on the sword while ignoring the importance of the scabbard. As a result, he became a better warrior than a ruler of his kingdom. He was also unable to partake in a full relationship with Guinevere, further removing himself from the feminine elemental nature of water, reflecting an imbalance within his realm. According to Celtic tradition, the land on the material plane is a reflection of the state of the kingship on the inner spiritual plane.

The sword arises from under the water, symbolizing the unconscious, which gives it power over Arthur. The indiscriminant unconscious use of the sword brings disaster. The unconscious contains primal energy, which must be consciously controlled and used in the service of the kingdom (the sacred land and her people), control that the purer does not possess. The scabbard brings in the aspect of consciousness in how the sword is wielded. In fact, Arthur foolishly gives the unvalued scabbard to his faery half-sister, Morgan Le Fay, who represents the negative feminine aspect of deceit working behind the scenes in a destructive manner. The devaluation of the positive feminine aspect of intuitive and circular insight is represented by the devaluation of the scabbard. Gareth Knight contends that the whole of the Arthurian narrative is based upon principles of polarity working, which are rarely understood, hence the ignorance of the scabbard as it relates to the sword as a complementary opposite.

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References

Day, David. (1995). The Search for King Arthur. Great Britain: De Agostini Editions Ltd.

Knight, Gareth. (1996). The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc.

Knight, Gareth. (2001). A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism. Boston, MA.: Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.

Kime, Philip. L. (2010). The Purer and the Symbolism of the Sword. Psychological Perspectives. 53(1), 43-61.

Matthews, Caitlin. (1995). The Celtic Tradition. Rockport, MA: Element, Inc.

 

Marian A. LeeMarian Lee has studied Jungian psychology and the Kabbalah as a personal endeavor for decades. She has a MA in mental health counseling and is half way through a PhD in political science. She finds that without the understanding of the spiritual/cultural context of mythology and archetypal psychology, these two fields are dry intellectual endeavors bordering on the useless. She has written her first visionary fiction book for middle-grade readers (8-12) and their grandparents, The Lioness of Brumley Hall and Her Most Unusual Grandchildren under the name of Augusta Pearson Benners.

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15 Responses to The Scabbard and the Sword Part I – guest post by Marian A. Lee

  1. Thank you, Marian, for an informative post, plus further clarification of the genre of visionary fiction. I particularly like the following three statements:

    "More than any other works of fiction, except for fairy tales and mythological narratives, Visionary Fiction makes use of spiritual and psychological archetypes, as well as material symbolism to work on the subconscious in an attempt to bring realization of spiritual truths to the level of consciousness."

    "Very little of this world has the staying power of mythology. This is due to its archetypal nature, which is found, as Jung points out, in the collective unconscious of humanity, and is therefore salient to all cultures."

    "The devaluation of the positive feminine aspect of intuitive and circular insight is represented by the devaluation of the scabbard."

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  2. Glad you enjoyed the post Margaret. This is a particular interest of mine and I will be working on the subject matter in more detail over the coming months with the goal of publishing an eBook.

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  3. I really enjoyed this, Marian. This particular mythic system runs deep in me, and you obviously have a profound understanding of it. As another writer, I found this quote uplifting: "Very little of this world has the staying power of mythology." We Visionary Fiction Writers are repeating, reenvisoning, transforming the myths for the growing consciousness of today. Thanks for this post.

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  4. Marian, I enjoyed the depth of your descriptions and analysis, particularly relating to the feminine and masculine aspects of the Arthurian myth and theme of the scabbard and the sword. This historical (and even current) dismissal of the feminine attributes and power is something we humans do to our detriment, both personally and collectively. Mythology does run deep in our consciousness, and when we as VF writers, pen something with the aim of shifting consciousness, it is clear how important it is to take mythology into consideration.

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  5. Admin - Eleni says:

    I first heard of the archetypes mentioned when reading works by Joseph Campbell. All my early outlines follow that structure. I immediately picked up the spiritual quality to the hero’s journey.You mention near the end of your article that the symbolic meanings behind the sword, scabbard, and cauldron are rarely understood. It made me think of how we perpetuate these roles, making them almost seem as though we live our lives through a pre-determined script. We all live these roles, many of us unaware we’re doing so. It never ceases to amaze me that Jung and his collective unconscious explains this, yet we continue to follow the same script with limited editing. Our goal is to be what, Jung calls, modern man. Only by consciously perceiving these archetypes can one begin to write one’s own script.

    “I must say that the man we call modern, the man who is aware of the immediate present, is by no means the average man.  He is rather the man who stands upon a peak, or at the very edge of the world, the abyss of the future before him, above the heavens, and below him the whole of mankind with a history that disappears in primeval mists.  The modern man – or, let’s say again, the man of the immediate present – is rarely met with, for he must be conscious to a superlative degree.  Since to be wholly of the present means to be fully conscious of one’s existence as a man, it requires the most intensive and extensive consciousness, with a minimum of unconsciousness.  It must be clearly understood that the mere fact of living in the present does not make a man modern, for in that case everyone at present alive would be so.  He alone is modern who is fully conscious of the present.” Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of Soul.

    Thanks for this inspirational post!

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    • Fortunately our spiritual growth does not always have to be in conscious awareness to be positive and beneficial. Even when we unconsciously inhabit various archetypes, we can have profound experiences of revelation and growth. Both Campbell and Jung were spiritual trailblazers ahead of their times or should I say right on time.

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    • Great nugget from Jung: "Since to be wholly of the present means to be fully conscious of one’s existence as a man, it requires the most intensive and extensive consciousness, with a minimum of unconsciousness." The quest is always for greater consciousness. My first novel featured the aphorism: "Pay attention. The rest will come." On weary days I used to ask myself in a tone of complaint: "But how much attention must I pay?" And the answer always was and is "More and more." I've gotten used to it.

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  6. Aleia Schaum says:

    I found your article insightful especially the parts about the feminine being devalued. I am also excited to see that you write for 8 to 12 year olds which is my target audience, also. I believe visionary fiction is a powerful genre for this age group. My book isn't published yet. I did have a beta group of 4th and 5th graders read it this spring who loved it. I ordered your book and look forward to reading it.

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  7. Yes, this age group is ripe for visionary fiction. Feminine worth is an underlying aspect of my book. Let me know the title of your book and I'll return the favor when it is published.

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  8. Thank you, Marian, for this timely post. Since I've spent much of the last 10 years embedded in the research and writing of my next VF novel, Channel of the Grail, the whole Arthurian tradition has been a part of every meal. My work is focused on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival but I've tasted many other versions of the tales as well. I believe that the origins, documents, and analysis of the Arthurian material is as rich and at least as important as the study of biblical literature, especially for westerners. Juxtaposing it with Jung's archetypes reveals more of its meaning. Do work this material into a book; I can see it as a valuable handbook for VF writers.

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  9. Yes, I could research the Arthurian material for many years which is why I focused on just the symbols of the sword and scabbard. Good luck on your novel. I would like to read it when you are finished and published.

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  10. Pingback: The Scabbard and the Sword Part I – guest post by Marian A. Lee | philipparees

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