Saint George and the Dragon (The Wedding of Light and Love)

Fire and Water, the ‘outer’, polar elements of Nature, are irreconcilable; they cannot meet
directly, but only through the intermediaries of air and earth. In order for them to
encounter each other, and blend into one, they must be transmuted from the natural to
the moral plane; which is possible only through the evolution of the moral sense in
mankind, in whom the polar opposites of Nature are experienced within themselves (and
projected without themselves) as ‘good’ and ‘evil’, imagined variously as Mind/Soul and
Body, as Light and Dark, as Alpha and Omega. Between these opposites lies a world of
myriad tones of colour: the world of Air and Earth. This is the daily world of mankind,
who is (though aware—through the heavy veils of daily life—of the unadulterated
energies of the opposite poles, looming at the horizons of its world), unable to endure
this awareness directly, except through prayer and sacrifice to the side of Light, of
‘good’; and through magic, to protect it from the side of Dark, of ‘evil’.
These poles of the manifest world need not, however be envisioned as in opposition to
each other, but merely of contrary qualities, both partaking of the wholeness of the One:
the qualities of Light and of Love; which ‘principles of being’ may indeed be conceived,
and felt, not as antagonistic, but as yearning towards one another.
However, that harmony which is achieved in Nature, the flow of energy between the
poles [as emblemized in the yin-yang concept of Taoism], is ever hindered on the moral
plane by mankind’s ego-self, striving to shape the world into what it experiences as
itself, its own individual image. In doing so, it identifies itself with the principal of
Light alone (God-as-Alpha), opposing itself to, and demonizing, the contrary pole of
Love (God-as-Omega), seeing it only, (and experiencing it in its own body) as wild and
destructive lust. To counter and overcome this ego-resistance to the flow of Light into
Love and its return thence to itself, teachings, expressed in allegories, legends and
‘histories’, evolved within mankind. In the European world, which became the
quintessential Christian world, the teaching evolved out of the Hebrew myth of the
world’s creation.
According to this myth (though the matter is not so stated or seen), the first separation of
Fire from Water occurs when the seraph Michael drives Lucifer out of Heaven (in
accordance with Lucifer’s own will [God’s own will, manifesting as ‘luciferian ego’, to
see Himself, as in a mirror, from Without] to ‘explore outwardness’, bearing the Light
into the ‘uncomprehending’ Dark); so breaking the oneness of the World into two
incommunicable halves, for Lucifer (the ‘light-bearer’), shining (and seen as ‘falling’)
into the ‘uncomprehending’ Dark, ‘turns his coat’, becoming himself the ‘king’ of the
Dark who, as Satan, the ‘Adversary’ of the Light; takes upon himself the form of the
serpent (or ‘snake’ or ‘dragon’), this being a creature most easily imagined as the body of
the deep and dark water underlying the ‘outer’ and still unpeopled earth.
To heal this breach of the cosmos, God makes Adam and Eve from water and earth, the
‘lower’ Omegan elements of Himself, and gives them life with his fiery breath, the
‘upper’ Alphic elements of Himself; thus making them at one with Himself. But this
‘binding of the wound’ is broken by Adam and Eve’s also choosing to explore
‘outwardness’, pictured as their ‘seduction’ by Satan from their awareness of ‘being-in-
God’ in the Garden of Eden (the image of Heaven on Earth), into a ‘knowledge’ of their
separate, individual existences; God then becoming for them no longer themselves, but
Other, an external image both fearful and desired. In this self-created condition, they
experience themselves as being driven from the Garden, as was Lucifer from Heaven;
and their burdened lives in the ‘outer world’ are seen in Christian tradition as their, and
their descendants’ imprisonment in the myriad coils of the ‘underworld serpent, or
With the flow of time in this ‘outer’ world, the yearning of mankind towards its own
godhood expresses itself in the image of ‘Eve’ in her turn ‘turning her coat’, directing all
her energy away from the ‘outer world’ to the heart of her own being, so evolving into
‘Mary’; who gives herself (emblematic of the whole ‘outer’ world of earth and water) to
God-as-Gabriel (the ‘inner’ world of fire and air). From this union ‘Jesus’ is born, the four
elements in one, as God’s avatar in the samsaric world of ‘outwardness’.
When grown to manhood, Jesus becomes ‘twice-born’ through his passage through water
(his baptism in the Jordan, wherein he is newly named ‘Christos’, the ‘Anointed’); so
allowing the Serpent, the image of water, to infuse his being; so becoming One with the
Omega aspect of God as Water and Earth; so enabling God to experience Himself in
Himself-as-Outwardness. In this state of awareness, ‘God-the Anointed’ returns to
Himself-as-Alpha: through his ‘crucifixion’, his living experience of the coincidence of
opposites, He becomes thrice-born, uniting the watery Omega world with the Alphic
world of Fire, experiencing their flowing through his own heart, the centre of the figure
eight of his own being.
From this central Christian myth of ‘God’ himself [‘god’ in Everyman] there evolved
through the successive centuries—with the evolution of ‘saints’, men and women
experiencing ‘god’ in themselves and themselves in ‘god’—other tales, of one or two of
thse saints, illustrating exfoliations of this concept of Being ‘turning its coat’ so as to
experience itself as Becoming, so ‘increasing Its wisdom’ [like Odin, hanging himself
head-first ‘into the world’ to gather from it the twigs of the holy tree Yggdrasil, of which
the alphabet articulating the world was made], and reuniting that world of Becoming
with Itself as Being. These tales, vivid and beloved ‘tales of heroes and dragons’ (having
for many the ‘factual’ quality of ‘history’), and frequently illustrated to intensify their
‘reality’, became auxiliary guides to people’s souls through the labyrinth constructed by
their own minds.
Of these, that which became the most widely known and loved was the Tale of Saint
George and the Dragon.
It was not, in its anecdotal content, original to Christianity, but had many forerunners in
legends of Georgia, Cappadocia, and the Levant in general. And centuries before them
(and remaining alive in the culture of Europe), was the ancient Greek myth of the
slaying by Perseus of the dragon to which a princess, the daughter of the king of
‘Ethiopia’, had been offered, to keep it from ravaging the kingdom. With the help of
both Hermes and Athene, Perseus saves her, is wedded to her, and becomes, through her,
the father of the line of Danaan kings who rule Argos from Tyrins and Mycenae.
The maiden who is rescued from the dragon by Saint George is not so wholly of ‘this
world’; the tale, in accordance with the manner of Christian teaching, has become
allegorical, having a ‘clear and open’ reference to the victory of good over evil. It has
also, as we shall see, an inner, veiled, meaning. Which may be perceived—though not
easily—in the many pictures of the event painted over the centuries in mediaeval and
renascence Europe.
The usual ‘icon’ of the tale is of a mediaeval knight on a white horse encountering a
dragon which is rising out of water (often from a dark cave flowing with water) to
challenge him. Nearby, on ground of one kind or another, is a ‘maiden’ who is bound
there—usually by only the finest of cords, indicating rather than illustrating her
condition of sacrifice to the dragon. She is said, in the legend (although this is not
usually evident in the icon), to be the daughter of the king of the realm.
The most frequent portrayal of the scene shows the point of Saint George’s spear
piercing into the fiery breath of the dragon, so indicating his slaying it; which the
Christian Church, on whose walls this ‘icon’ is hung, tells us illustrates the triumph of the
Light of Christ over the Dark of paganism. But we may, if we look carefully at the
encounter, see other teachings in it than that.
Why is Saint George’s spear typically shown as penetrating the dragon’s mouth?
The legend tells us that its scales are impenetrable. Is this the reason? Or is the icon
telling us something other?
It may be well, at this point, to remember that Saint George, even in the Christian
context, is not the original ‘dragon-slayer’; nor indeed was he originally a dragon-slayer
at all; but a simple Roman soldier. The ‘dragon-slayer’ of the early church was the
Archangel Michael himself, in mediaeval costume veiling his Light, encountering the
‘mediaeval’ image of Lucifer, prince of the Dark. Of this encounter, between ‘Saint
Michael’ and the ‘dragon’, there are also many iconic representations.
What need then for Saint George, if the dragon was so effectively slain by ‘Saint
‘Saint Michael’ was not a man; all his ‘manly’ mediaeval dressing could not conceal that
he was, in his essence, an angel.
An angel can, of course, slay a dragon. Light can shine into the Dark.
But will the Dark ‘comprehend’ it?
Need it?
If it does not, the whole remains broken into opposing parts; the One is Not-One.
The Hero of the encounter therefore evolved, through the ‘descent’ of the Archangel
Michael, emblematic of Heavenly Fire shining into the created world as pure white
Light (light in its fullness, containing all the colours of the rainbow), into ‘Saint George’,
his microcosmic aspect. For this to be possible, Saint George was ‘reborn’ (in the
manner of pre-Christian spiritual rebirth, on horseback) out of Saint George the
(foot)soldier, a man like other men, to enable him to serve as the (twice-born but still)
human protagonist (exemplifying the ‘hero’ in all mankind) in the encounter with ‘the
For this encounter, he rides a white horse, symbolic of the Light within him of Michael
the Archangel, and his body is enclosed in fire-forged armour, emblematic of the
dedication of his ‘earthly body’ to the ‘upper, heavenly’ realm of Fire [symbolically
equivalent to the circumcision of the Hebrews, and the tonsure—itself suggestive of
circumcision—of Christian monks], which will shield him from the danger of his own
physical dissolution in the encounter with the formless waters; for without the armour,
his body is only of earth, air and water, of the world of flesh and grass.
For his mission, his ‘quest’, was not—against the teaching of the Church—to ‘slay’ the
dragon, to drive it back into its own Darkness; but to draw it out of that Darkness into
the Light of the ‘upper’ world; and himself, as the emblem on earth of that world of Fire
and Air, to become One with it.
The Waters, in order to play their part in this encounter, create out of themselves the
‘serpent’ or ‘dragon’, maintained in form by its armour of scales [Ourobouros, the world
encircling snake coiled into a circle of stillness; Mary the inward-gazing evolution of
Eve; the Empress of the Tarot turned within herself as the High Priestess of the inner
temple, whence flow the living waters of the world; Percival’s sister giving her blood
and her life, that the queen of the outer world may be healed and flower], so that it may
receive St. George’s phallic spear [as did Mary Gabriel’s lily], and know it, in its own
being; so that living form may be the fruit of their union. Were there no ‘dragon’, Saint
George might plunge his spear of Light into the dark waters unendingly [like Onan
spilling his seed on the ground] and nothing whatever come of it.
The ‘icons’ of the encounter of Saint George and the Dragon, though differing in many
details, do not normally vary in two essentials: Saint George rides a white horse and the
dragon’ breath is fiery red; so representing the polar opposites of Light and Love.
Opposite but not equal; because, in both the legend and its illustration, the Light is
idealized, characterized as ‘good’, while Love is demonized, characterized as ‘evil’. The
White Light of Heaven, by which mankind, exposed to its nakedness, would be instantly
destroyed, is doubly sheathed: in the ‘angelic’ body of Michael within the human body of
Saint George, from whose heroic presence—itself sheathed in armour—it appears only
in the ‘spear of Light’ in his hands, and the white cross, the Christian formal picturing of
the Light, on his shield; Light so muted in the ‘Air’ of the world that we may bear it, and
be nourished.
‘Love’, however, as seen in the emblem of the Dragon, is in no such manner transmuted;
it is in its raw, destructive state of lust and wild desire, symbolized by the flailing of its
body in the waters; and is therefore (felt to be) dangerous to the ‘upper’, Light-filled
world of Air.
And this ‘world’ is not—although it is so pictured—the ‘world without’, but that within
each one of us: the ‘dangerous’ Dragon of Love, our own inchoate sexual desires and
emotional longings, flailing about for means of expression; which ‘Saint George’ in each
of us must tame, so that our lust may be transmuted to the pure Love of which the
Maiden is the emblem.
But for this to be accomplished, it is not possible (against the overt Christian teaching of
the legend and icon) that the ‘dragon’ (the emblem of the great and formless energy of
the underlying waters) be slain; for without the ‘dragon’, our whole (untamed) emotional
being, there can be no love at all, ‘holy’ or ‘unholy’; but only wallflowers pressed in a
book of pious devotions to a far and desolate god.
The ‘mating’ of Saint George with the Dragon-Maiden is, therefore, twofold. The first is
his entering the ‘underflowing waters’, personified by the dragon, into whose—open,
offered—mouth he penetrates through his phallic spear, so entering himself into the
world of which it is the image, the ‘outer’ world of God, as God-as-Omega, the Buddhist
Samsara. This is the essential ‘marriage’ [like that of Mary with Gabriel (his phallic Lily
being the equivalent of Saint George’s spear)]; for as he ‘descends’ into the world of
Earth and Water, she rises out of it into the world of Air and Fire, and is transfigured
from the dragon to the maiden.
Only when this has been accomplished may they both (and all mankind who bear them
within) meet in the ‘world without’, knowing, experiencing themselves as God both
Alpha and Omega, the Androgyne heart of the world.
There are, in several of the many icons of this encounter, curious and suggestive details.
In one, the armour of Saint George appears to be made of scales, like the skin of the
dragon; and is green, the colour of earth and water. In other, Orthodox, icons a boy is
riding on the horse behind Saint George. And in many, the maiden is shown not as a
captive of the dragon, but rather as its ‘mistress’, holding in her hand a cord, the other
end of which is around the dragon’s neck.
These ‘details’ tell us much about the nature of the encounter.
That the armour of Saint George is as scaly as the body of the dragon tells us that he is
able to ‘comprehend’ the ‘dragon’, that he is not, like the original Light of Lucifer shining
into the dark, as uncomprehending of the Dark as the Dark is of that Light; Saint
George, the child of both the ‘fall’ of Adam and Eve and the Resurrection of Christ, is
himself of the world of the dragon, and knows it. Were he not, he would not be able to
encounter it; for the ‘dragon’ is the creature of his knowing of himself-as-dragon, the
under-waters of his own being taking the primal form which enables him to ‘know’
them, through allowing the Light of ‘Heaven’ to pour through his spear into the mouth
the emblem of ‘articulation’ of the receptive dragon; which he knows to be himself. [So
did Percival, to bring to conscious form what it was he experienced in the Grail Castle,
need to ‘ask the question’.]
Equally, the ‘Maiden’ is not the ‘prisoner’ of the dragon; she is the dragon herself, her
own prisoner, in her amoral ‘innocence’, her unknowing that her unending Becoming is
at-one with her own inner Being. And so it is natural that the Maiden be seen as the
dragon’s ‘mistress’; for ‘Saint George’ himself knows that she is at-one with the dragon,
and that both are aspects of himself.
The ‘slaying’ of the dragon is thus the entry of ‘Saint George’, into the ‘lower’ world of
God-as-Omega, which he, as the evolved representative of the ‘upper’ world of God-as-
Alpha, is able to see, but only ‘darkly’, as the dragon, the shape of the energy of untamed
‘natural lust’, or Eros. In ‘entering’ this world, ‘Saint George’ allows this energy to flow
‘upward’ into his own body, to his heart (the centre-point of the white cross on his
shield), where it is transmuted to Love, or Agape. In enabling this to happen within
himself, he ‘frees’ the ‘maiden’, herself the purified ‘dragon’, Ourobouros curled into a
still circle, radiant with the Light of Saint George’s spear, they together forming the I of
Light in the O of Love [the lingam in the yoni of Hinduism, the ‘jewel in the lotus’ of
Buddhism], the androgyne ‘seed’ from which the whole ‘outer’ world bursts into flower.
The Feast of ‘Saint George’ is, therefore, the feast of the springtime, when seeds, the
source of all underworld energy, burst their bonds and stretch their limbs, and flower.
And Saint George—his very name, in demotic Greek declaring him a farmer: ‘Giorgos’;
which is to say ‘Gi-ourgos’ or ‘earth-maker’— ‘cultivates’ this earth, the ‘outer’ world;
which is to say that he strives to come to know its unendingly proliferating nature,
emblemized in the Maiden and dragon both. in himself.
And the boy on the back of Saint George’s white horse?
Anecdotal reasons for his presence are given in different versions of the legend, for
those to whom such veiling anecdotes are the ‘colour’ of their spiritual life; but he is,
under such veils, an image of the inner spirit of Saint George himself, remaining always
innocent, untouched by the muddying world into which he is venturing. [Like the
‘innocent boy’ within the Prodigal Son, who can still hear his father’s voice calling him.]
As if in a shadowing of this spiritual adventure, on the 23rd of April, Saint George’s feast
day, herdsmen throughout the lands bordering the Mediterranean, gathered their sheep,
goats or cattle and began to drive them from the soon-to-be-hot lowlands to the cool of
the hills.
And in the autumn, with the fall of the leaves, they returned to the then warm lowlands
from the chill of the hills, beginning their journey at the feast of Saint Demetrios, on the
26th of October. Six months after and before the feast of Saint George. And there is
again a boy, riding of the back of the red horse of Saint Demetrios; whose
complementary legend we must now consider.
Who was Saint Demetrios?
He was not, according to the Church, east or west, Saint James (the Greater, son of
Zebedee); but the qualities they emblemized were much the same; and herders in the
lands of the Western Church began to herd their animals down from the hills to the
lowlands on the feast of Saint James, the 23rd of October. And both are emblematic of
what may be called the ‘journey of Return’, from Love to Light. But Saint Demetrios is
particularly a saint of Orthodox Christians, and it is in their icons that his relationship to
Saint George is clearly seen.
He is always pictured as riding a red horse, the red of Love, in contrast to the white
horse (of Light) of Saint George. And, in accord with the narrative of his legend, he is
pictured killing, or having killed, a big-bodied man [said to be a ‘pagan’ or ‘infidel’;
which is to say a man who has so lost his sense of his own inner self that he is as much
of the proliferating ‘natural’ world as the dragon itself; but without its innocence], who is
lying on the ground at the hooves of the horse, his hands sometimes still struggling to
pull it down, as Saint Demetrios’ plunges his spear into his body. And, riding on the
horse’s back behind St. Demetrios, is an unarmed boy, usually carrying a tray.
Who is this boy?
The story told to the faithful is that he was a boy who worked in a cafe, serving coffee to
the clients, and that Saint Demetrios had taken him up on his horse.
Why? There is a ‘natural’ narrative explanation, but it has no significance; for the boy is
not a ‘natural boy’, but (like the boy on Saint George’s horse) an emblem of Saint
Demetrios himself, reborn out of the ‘pagan’ his spear has killed. The ‘pagan’ being
himself also.
For the ‘pagan’ in the icon is the emblem of the soul of man (imaged by Saint Demetrios)
dying to the amoral world of natural energy, in which he lives and dies unaware of his
own inner self (the ‘boy’) being at one with ‘God’ [the atman ignorant that it is Brahman].
‘Slain’ by ‘Saint Demetrios’ becoming aware of his own inner self, the ‘pagan’ is ‘reborn’
as the ‘innocent boy’, in full awareness of the oneness of the Self, and his being himself
‘at-one’ with it. ‘Saint Demetrios’ dies and the nameless boy [‘nameless’ because he has
surrendered his ego, his ‘personality’ into the Self] is born, still astride the red horse of
Love, through which he is able to live in the ‘outer world’ and ‘guide his flock’ down
from the hills to the ‘sea’. As do Percival and Bors in their Grail Quest when their ‘trials’
have been overcome. But for Saint Demetrios no ship is waiting to carry him to ‘Sarras’
at ‘the world’s end’; his world is still turning. So, with the winter’s ending and the
spring’s flowering, he ‘turns his coat’, as his red horse (of Love) pales to the white of
Light, and he becomes again ‘Saint George’, riding over the land in quest of the dragon,
through which he will come to know the ‘outer world’ in its myriad tentacles; and again
draw it all, through ‘Saint Demetrios’, into Himself.
(Victoria, 20th of July, 2014)

Notes on The Golden Fleece

‘In the beginning’ is the titan Prometheus, pinioned on a mountain at the eastern
end of the Pontic Sea, high above the city of Colchis, for his theft of the Divine
Fire in a (phallic) fennel stalk, intending that it should enable mankind to ‘make
things’, by mingling the fire with earthly matter. But this act of (benevolent) selfwill
is seen by the gods as dangerous to the harmony of the cosmos; and so the
nightly ‘dreams’ of Prometheus, through which he would ‘give form to the world’
are daily reassumed into Zeus through the agency of his ‘vehicle’, the eagle
which consumes Prometheus’ liver, the seat of his ‘dreams’. Until ‘night falls’.
And ‘night falls’ precisely because Zeus has drawn the ‘dream-world’ back into
Not absolutely: his projection, Prometheus, still remains crucified at the navel
and source of the world; but the world itself is only endless cold and dark. In
which the liver grows again, and Prometheus dreams with it, gradually rebuilding
the images of the ‘world’—until the sun itself exists again, and so rises. On a
new ‘day’ or aeon.
For this ‘dream’ (Zeus’ own dream, in his mask of ‘Prometheus’, self-crucified
[like Odin] ‘to increase his own wisdom’; to be able, that is, to know himself) to
take on the flesh of a living world, a further ‘step outwards’ must be taken, so
that not merely ideas and images of the world, but the physical world itself (the
world of Mary, of flesh) may become instinct with the inner fire, in a mode which
it may bear.
This ‘mode’ is the ‘Golden Fleece’, which must be brought into the ‘daily world’ of
Hellas from the great tree (‘of Life’) where it is hanging, at the very edge of this
world, where the sun every morning rises to light it: Colchis.
And how does it come to be hanging there?
That is the tale of Phrixos.
And who was Phrixos?
An actor in the old legend of the clan of Aeolian Greeks; a complex legend, of
which the central thread weaves through four generations from Aiolos, the
eponymous forefather, to Jason, upon whom fell the task of bringing the Golden
Fleece from Colchis to Greece.
The gods played their parts in the legend; ‘naturalistic’ parts, like those of the
humans, to give a colour of ‘life’ to the inner teaching. (So much ‘colour’, indeed,
in their three-dimensional vividness, that the inner teaching is almost obscured.)
Zeus, seeing that Hera is desired by Ixion, a king of the Lapiths, deceives him
by creating Nepheli from a luminous cloud and giving her the appearance of
Hera. Ixion lies with Nepheli, (from which union is born Centaurus, who in turn
mates with Magnesian mares, from which the race of Centaurs is born), and
then is cast into the ‘underworld’.
Nepheli is then given to Athamas, son of Aeolos, to whom she bears Phrixos,
When grown to young manhood, Phrixos is about to be sacrificed by his father,
in accord with a (false) Delphic oracle (as, mutatis mutandis, Isaac was to be by
Abraham). Spared at Zeus’ will, Phrixos flies on the back of the winged ram
sent by Hermes to be sacrificed in his stead, to Colchis, where he sacrifices it to
Zeus, [returning to him what was his own], and hangs the golden fleece of the
ram in a great oak tree by the shore of the Euxine. From high on the mountain
above it, the ichor of Prometheus’ pinioned and savaged body, trickling down
like dew, drenches the fleece, filling it with the radiance of Fire-as-Light, the
radiance of Zeus Himself.
The task, then, of bringing this Golden Fleece into the outer world, that this
world may feel at every moment the radiance of the Divine, but in a manner so
veiled that it may bear it, is the Quest which it falls to Jason and his forty nine
fellow Argonauts to perform.
And who is Jason?
He is of the next generation of the Aeolian clan: the son of Aeson, who is the
son of Cretheus, who is the brother of Phrixos’ father, Athamas. (The texture of
the naturalistic, ‘human’ surface of the myth is very closely woven, but still
enables the inner meaning, while largely eluding the mind, to touch the heart
and soul.)
The ‘story’ of Jason’s birth and growth is given us at length and in detail. His
father, Aeson, the heir to the Aeolian kingdom, is deposed by his half-brother,
Pelias (son to Poseidon), and imprisoned. All possible heirs are killed by Pelias,
fearing revenge, as forecast by an oracle. But Aeson’s son, Jason, just born, is
smuggled to safety on Mt. Pelion, where he is nurtured and taught (like other
great heroes of the times) by the centaur Cheiron.
When Jason has grown to young manhood, he encounters Pelias (through
events of anecdotal naturalism and ‘divine intervention’), who lays upon him—in
‘recompense for his promise to cede him the kingdom’; but actually to send him
to his doom—the ‘impossible’ task of bringing the Golden Fleece from Colchis to
‘Greece’ (under whatever name it was then standing). ‘Impossible’ because of
the great distance away of Colchis, at the eastern boundary of the world, out of
which the morning sun arose; and the way there being plagued with many
dangers, and the Fleece itself being guarded by an unsleeping dragon.
Jason accepts the task. He arranges that a fifty-oared ship be built at Pagasae,
below Mt. Pelion, by the master craftsman Argus; into which, at its prow, Athene
fitted an oracular oak beam from Zeus’ oak tree at Dodona. While the ship is abuilding,
Jason sends heralds to all the courts of Greece, calling for volunteers
for the Quest; and forty-nine of the called are chosen, the greatest heroes of the
And the ship, the Argo—the number of its name, in Greek characters, being 912
(the same as that for ‘Prometheus’), it is well suited to its task: 912 being the
value of the diameter of the metaphysical circle of Time and Space: 2868—as
long and lean as a stiffened serpent, is launched into the sea; and the Argonauts
(accompanied by the music of Orpheus’ lute) row it towards the east. And have
many adventures on the way, suitable to heroes of that, or any, heroic age;
adventures and stories which will have been well-loved by those hearing them
sung, in the years and centuries which followed; few of them caring to know
what, within the ‘adventure’, their souls were being taught.
What were they being taught? Not (though it would seem that they are) that the
strongest and boldest man will win the prize. Then? That will, I hope, appear as
we follow the events and adventures of their journey.
This ‘journey’, the Quest, began in a ‘normal’ manner for the times. The
Argonauts rowed and sailed their ship across the Aegean from Iolcos to Samos,
and from there to the opening of the Dardenelles, enjoying the kind of
successive adventures which any such group of young men might have in the
‘everyday’ world. Only when they penetrate into the Sea of Marmara does this
world begin to become ‘other’, as they near the gates into the mesocosmic
world, the ‘unfruitful’, ‘unharvested’ Pontic, or Euxine Sea.
Having entered the Sea of Marmara through the Dardanelles, the Argonauts row
the Argo in to its eastern shore at the town and kingdom of Kyzikos, which is set
upon a peninsula, curiously shaped like the head of a giant anvil extending into
the sea, with a sheltering harbour to each side of the neck of low sand
connecting its mountainous island ‘head’ to the plain of its mainland body.
Arriving in the western harbour, the Argonauts are welcomed by the Doliones,
the people of the kingdom, and tell them of their Quest. They are told to
exchange their stone anchor for a much heavier one, (leaving the smaller one
for safety in Athene’s temple); which they do.
Because their journey is now taking them out of the ‘everyday’ world, where their
own ‘weight’ (of mind, soul and body) is sufficient to ground them, into that of the
Pontic ‘mesocosmos’, where it will be far from sufficient to keep them from losing
themselves in the Other; particularly in view of their own ‘lightening’, as will be
seen in the events immediately following.
The configuration of the kingdom of Kyzikos, with its two harbours backing
against each other at the isthmus, is indicative of the point the Argonauts have
arrived at in their journey. The western harbour, where they first arrive, is that of
‘this world’; the eastern, to which headwinds later drive them back, is of ‘that
world’, which it is their quest to explore.
Before they may leave the first, western, harbour, they must repel an attack by
the six-armed ‘aborigines’,who live on the mountainous island. These ‘wild men
of Earth’ are not merely ‘autochthonous’, but are said to have been born of
Mother Earth alone, [without infusion of the ‘light of Heaven’ of which Zeus is the
anthropomorphic image]. These ‘aborigines’—it is expressly stated—have never
troubled the Doliones, who are the people of the land of Kyzikos; because
‘Poseidon would not allow it’. Of which the inner meaning appears to be that the
‘two peoples’ are aspects of one people: its ‘lower’, earth and water nature, and
its ‘upper’ air and fire nature; they live in harmony (as in mankind generally), so
long as the ‘upper’, (the Doliones) does not seek beyond the earthly world which
is the ‘kingdom of Kyzikos’). When they do, in the guise of the Argonauts, the
‘lower body’, feeling itself humiliated and abandoned, revolts.
[So, in many Christian icons, are ‘saints’ portrayed as suffering the torture of
penetration by ‘phallic’ weapons, arrows and pointed stakes, emblematic of the
‘lower’ earth-and-water qualities of themselves which they have denied. Unlike
ascetics in quest of ‘god’ in Christian times, Hellenic heroes on quest neglected
their ‘body of earth’ at their peril, as it was recognized to be part of their very
nature. Such neglect always brought on ‘gales’ and ‘plagues’ and myriad other
forms of physical obstacle to their quest. Rhea, or Hera, was Eve, not the
‘entempled’ Mary.]
The ‘aborigines’ are subdued, killed by the Argonauts, who then set sail in the
Argo around the headland, eastward towards the Bosporos. But they sail for
only a short distance before being blown back to the eastern harbour of Kyzikos.
For Rhea is angry at the killing of the ‘aborigines’, they being of her province,
that of ‘Earth’, and their killing has thrown the world out of balance.
Arriving at the eastern side of the sandy isthmus ‘in the dark night’, the
Argonauts encounter the Doliones, who think they are a force of their
neighbours and enemies. Unable to see whom they are fighting, the Argonauts
kill many of the Doliones. Of which it may be said that being ‘in the dark’ they
are acting instinctually, like ‘aborigines’, and in so doing kill their own ‘air and fire’
natures, as before they had killed those of ‘earth and water’; and Jason kills the
king Kyzikos, of whom it is said that ‘he somewhat resembled Jason’; indicating
that Jason has killed himself as a social being, bound into the patterns of
‘everyday’ life.
Thus are the Argonauts all become [like Odysseus on killing the Cyclops] ‘no
men’, with their shedding of their social personalities as Doliones and
Aborigines. Freed of their condition of men in a social context, they become fit
for the Quest beyond the Clashing Rocks which protect the microcosmic world
they know from the featureless world of the ‘unfruitful, unharvested’ Pontic Sea
Atonement being made to Rhea, water flows and the earth flowers, and the wind
is favourable, to show that they are now in tune with the will of the gods. And
The Argo carries them all towards the Bosporos.
But their trials are only beginning.
This ‘balancing’ of opposing energies, which culminates in the Argonauts’
passage between the Clashing Rocks, is expressed in two further encounters.
First it is told that a single combat to the death takes place between Polydeuces,
on behalf of the Argonauts (and who is described as ‘like a star shining in all its
beauty out of a western night’) and King Amykos, on behalf of the local people
(who ‘made one think of some monstrous offspring of the ogre Typhaos, or of
Earth herself, the kind she used to bear in the old days of her quarrel with Zeus’
[which is to say again: ‘without the light of Heaven in his body’]. In overcoming
the king, Polydeuces, the emblem in the battle of fire and air, further frees the
Argonauts from ‘dark’ earth and water elements in themselves; but at a ‘higher’,
level; for Amykos, brutish in appearance though he is said to be, is, nonetheless,
normally human in structure, unlike the ‘six-armed aborigines’ they had earlier
But all confrontations and battles, whether won or lost—and quintessentially
when won—are (against the surface credo of the heroic age) spiritually and
morally unbalancing; in this last ‘adventure’ leading the Argonauts into a
dangerous, hubristic, excess of ‘fire and air’.
They encounter the emblem of this danger (and the way to its removal) on the
opposite, Thracian, shore of the Propontis, in the person of the seer Phineos,
who (as an earthly shadow of Prometheus) had revealed plans of Zeus for the
world. His punishment for this was blindness, decrepit old age, and his food
stolen or contaminated by the Harpies; which is to say that his physical
existence is in torment from the excess of ‘light’ which he allowed to pass
through him, rending the protective veil.
Phineos welcomes the Argonauts, it having been told him that the ‘sons of the
North Wind’ would rid him of the fiery Harpies; and so they do, in the persons of
Zetes and Kalais, when they have been assured that it is within the will of Zeus
(else they would themselves suffer like punishment for their hubris). As sons of
the North Wind, they are well-suited to the task, as the element of Air is the very
veil (shielding earth from formless fire) which Phineos had rent.
It being ‘mended’ by their pursuing the Harpies to their cave in Crete, where they
will remain, Phineus, freed of his curse, ‘sees’, and tells the Argonauts what their
journey will entail; but only—having learnt his lesson—’what Zeus allows’. And
so they may continue, having rebalanced themselves again between the forces
of the opposing elements, to the Clashing Rocks guarding the gateway to the
‘unharvested’ Pontus or Euxinos; [The name ‘o euxeinos’, having, in its Greek
characters, the appropriate numerical value of ‘chaos’].
Following Phineos’ counsel, the Argonauts take with them a dove, and release it
just before they reach the Clashing Rocks, and watch its flight between them, as
harbinger and omen of their own passage. It pases through safely, only its tail
feathers being clipped off by the closing rocks, so they follow it, rowing with all
their strength into the boiling strait.
To catch the moments when the rocks are apart, their timing and balance must
be faultless; but those alone are not enough. They need also, for those fearful
moments, when all the rhythm of the world seems to cease and they are in a
void of cosmic terror [the moment of Christ’s outcry on the cross] the ‘grace of
God’, manifest in the person of Athene, who (as Zeus’ Thought is the gateway
between this world and the Other) ‘propels’ them safely through into the
featureless mesocosmic world of the Pontus.
But their passage through the rocks (like that of the dove which preceded them)
is not quite ‘clean’, for the tail of the mascot at the stern of the Argo is sheared
off. This shearing appears to be not a mere ‘accident’, but a symbol of
‘cleansing’, of preparing the Argonauts for the further stage of their Quest;
which, as Jason says, ‘lies at the far end of the Pontic Sea and of the world
itself’. At this ‘world’s end’ stands the city of Colchis; of which Herodotus says
that only there, outside Egypt, are circumcised people to be found. [This being
the chosen condition of men dedicated to God as exclusively Alpha; suitable to
those who live where the sun first enters the world; in neglect, even denial, of
the divine as Omega.] So, the shearing off of the ‘tail of the mascot’ suggests a
symbolic circumcision of the Argonauts, ‘purifying’ their bodies of ‘the earthly
world’, [the ‘Egypt’ of the Jews] making them fit for the mesocosmic world they
are entering, the Argo being symbolic of the phallos penetrating the vaginal
passage of the Clashing Rocks and releasing its seed, the fifty Argonauts, into
the womb of the (till then) ‘unfruitful, unharvested’ (unfruitful because
unharvested) Pontus.
Which it is the function of the Argonauts to ‘harvest’, to give to it the first form of
all created matter, that of the Argo itself, [the single straight line of the Arabic
‘alef’, to which all the other letters, which is to say the whole of the exfoliated
world, aspire] the spine of which they are the fifty vertebrae; Jason becoming, as
their leader, the first Pontifex, or bridge-maker, over the formless waters: the
diameter of the circle, ever measuring the never-before measured, and ever,
‘aeon’ after ‘aeon’—each but an instant in the mind of God—erased. [While
Poseidon, as Dante says, looks up in amaze.]
At the same time, the Argo, androgyne in its essential being [like Athene, its
maker], shelters in its own ‘womb’ the Argonauts from the free-flowing energies
which endanger them from Above (the sun, Helios, Apollo) and below (the
ocean, Poseidon).
For many days and nights the Argonauts sail and row over the Pontic sea,
following its southern shore, in accord with the instructions of Phineos’. Early in
their journey they land on a deserted island, at dawn, at the moment when
Apollo sets a foot upon it for a moment, and is gone; which they take as an
augury that they are within his benevolence. Some days and leagues later, they
approach a rocky island, which they are told is the isle of Ares, and on which
they are told to land, for the ‘good fortune’ it will bring. But landing there, even
approaching the island, is full of danger, because of the ‘Stymphalian’ birds who
live there [and who fled there when driven from Arcadia by Heracles in his sixth
labour]; they having brazen beaks, and brazen feathers which they shoot like
Sheltering themselves under their helmets and shields, and clanging their
swords and spears to make a great din [in imitation of Heracles’ driving the birds
from Arcadia], they land safely on the island.
What are these ‘stymphalian’ birds? And why are they on an island sacred to
Who is Ares himself, who is so central to the Quest?
As an image of God, he is something of a palimpsest, his character and
functions altering through the centuries, millennia, in accord with the altering
needs and beliefs of the Hellenic world, his importance steadily declining and
narrowing against that of other named aspects of God. But in the Quest for the
Golden Fleece, which is a tale of very early times, long before the Trojan war or
the labours of Hercules [though chroncled by Apollonios only in late Hellenistic
days], Ares has still much of his earlier grandeur, of the high god of the heavens
indeed, before that quality came to be personified as ‘Zeus’. And there is some
reason for thinking that ‘Zeus’ [whose genitive form is ‘Diou’, a form of ‘god’] was
but a title of the god whose functions he came to represent. [So, in India, did
‘Shiva’, originally a title of the god Rudra, become the name of the god himself.]
At the time of the Quest, Zeus is, and has long been, the unquestionable lord of
all the gods. The earlier importance of Ares is still everywhere seen and felt, but
it has become ‘dark’, a manifestation of energy flowing, as it were, from lower
centres of the body, ‘red’ and angry, as of fire ever about to burst its bonds’
Appropriately, he is the god of the kingdom of Colchis, and the king, Aietes, [said
to be of a fiery and angry nature] is his priest. Entering his realm is of the
greatest danger to the Argonauts, for which reason they have been counselled
by Phineos to be sure that Aphrodite’s protection is with them at all times; for
she is ‘of water’, as Ares is of fire; of love, as he is of death. [But they are not, at
the level of the divine, irreconcilable; and from their ‘coming together’ within the
fine-wrought net of Hephaestos—so ‘entempling’ them—is born the child
Having first encountered Apollo, the ‘higher vibration’ of Ares, the Argonauts are
encouraged in their passage; but they must still face the quality of harsh fire
which is Ares himself. Breaching the ‘outer gate’ of his realm, by killing and
scattering the Stymphalian birds [whose name as well as bodies suggest the
erect phallus the heroes must deal with, both outwardly and within], they are
‘rewarded’ in being joined by the four ship-wrecked sons of Phrixos [by Medea’s
sister, Chalkiope] who are the grandsons of King Aietes himself; and who are
able to guide them to the heart of Ares’ realm at Colchis, and advise them in the
manner of approaching their task. [The perennial teaching in myth being that
nothing of value can be obtained or achieved without some manner of’
‘invitation’ from the ‘power within’. Else the venture, self-willed, is doomed, like
the Titans raging against Olympos, or the tower of Babel, or the asuras striving
to overcome the gods.]
Safely arrived at Colchis and the Argo tethered among high reeds, Jason,
accompanied by several companions, including Argos as his guide, goes to the
court of King Aietes, from whom he requests leave to take the Golden Fleece to
Hellas. To which the king agrees, but only if Jason first prove his prowess by
yoking two brazen-hooved and fire-breathing bulls to an adamantine
ploughshare, ploughing Ares’ field with them, and into the furrows scattering the
teeth of a dragon, [a son of Ares] slain by Cadmus at Delphi. From the teeth,
armed warriors will spring up, whom Jason must then slay. Impossible though
the task appears of successful achievement, it is performed daily by Aietes
Why? We are not told. But it appears to be an ‘encounter’ between the Hero of
Fire and Air with the ‘autochthonous creatures’ which are the offspring of the
goddess of Water and Earth [Gaia, Rhea, Hera] without the ‘Heavenly’ infusion
of ‘fire and air’. The killing of these creatures is not, as appears on the surface,
their suppression; but their absorption into the body of the king [son of Helios
that he is], enabling him to function fully, as God’s emissary, in the mesocosmic
world, possessing in himself all its complementary qualities.
If Jason, then, is able to perform this act, it will prove that he also is an earthly
image of the Divine, and is therefore worthy to take the Golden Fleece, the
physical emblem of the Divine fire, from its ‘crucifixion’ on the great oak tree [of
life] at this cross-roads of the worlds, to the ‘daily world’ of Hellas, and there
hang it in Zeus’ temple in Orchomenos, as an icon n of Heaven’s presence on
This task naturally seems to Jason far greater than he is equal to. He returns to
the Argo and his companions in gloom. Argos suggests that Medea, his
mother’s younger maiden sister, and priestess of Hecate, be approached for her
help. As, we are told, Hera, Athene and Aphrodite have already conspired to
attain this help, sending Eros to pierce Medea’s heart with an arrow, so that she
falls in love with Jason, it is soon and effectively given. And, as a portent that it
will be given: (Ap. iii. 541) ‘A dove, hotly pursued by a great hawk, dropped
straight down into Jason’s lap, while the hawk fell, impaled on the mascot at the
stern of the Argo.’
The dove—said to be Aphrodite’s bird—dropping into Jason’s ‘lap’ is interpreted
simply, by Mopsus, the seer, as indicating that Jason follow ‘the way of love’, no
more than that; but it is, in fact, this union of Jason with Medea, symbolic of the
union of the ‘upper’ world of fire and air with the ‘lower’ world of water and earth,
and his submission to her guidance in the task, which enables it to be performed
successfully. Until Jason comes to ‘the world’s end’ [and beginning] at Colchis,
and succeeds in carrying the Golden Fleece out into the microcosmic world [of
‘Hellas’] in the ‘womb’ of the Argo—so that what was Light [or Word] may be
experienced, lived; the ‘dream’ become flesh—the ‘fire and air’, which is
emblemized in the Fleece, remains suspended ‘unfruitfully’ in the branches of
the mesocosmic tree of life, below the body of Prometheus, ‘crucified’ on the
mountain crag above Colchis; and above the equally ‘unfruitful’ Euxine.
And the hawk? Why is it ‘impaled on the mascot at the stern of the Argo’?
As the dove, the bird of Love, melts into Jason’s groin, so the ‘hawk’—which as
the ‘eagle’, the emblem of the Light, has been ever withdrawing Prometheus’
world-creating dream artifacts back into itself—enters into the body of the Argo.
[So, at the Annunciation, does ‘the Light’ enter into Mary, making her the living
‘ark of the covenant’; through what she then, as the holy of holies, contains, the
world of outwardness may ‘rise’ back into the oneness of Heaven.] The Argo,
having entered the mesocosmic world as the masculine phallus entering the
womb—like the shuttle threading through the warp of a loom—becomes, in
receiving into its body the Light, itself the womb of the world, through which
these ‘dream-artifacts’ may be born as living forms in the complex tapestry of the
outer world.
As the ‘pure stolen fire’ of Prometheus is contained in the phallic-shaped fennel
stalk, so the ‘fire and air’ of the ‘golden’ Fleece is laid in the Argo [the ‘phallos’ of
the Argonauts on their outward journey], which becomes its ‘womb’ for the return
to the microcosmic world; enclosing, sheltering, the Fleece as the ‘narthex’, the
fennel stalk, had the original fire. [So, mutatis mutandis, did the fiery sperm of
Shiva burst forth from his lingam to be caught and held by the river Ganga, the
only waters equal to his fire.]
And how did this great event come to pass? Through the love of Medea for
Jason, Her heart pierced by an arrow of Eros, [as the surface story goes, to
assure us that all happens within ‘the will of the gods’], she agrees to help him to
perform the task set him by Aietes, if, in return, he will take her with him to
Hellas; which he swears by all the gods to do, and to be faithful to her ever.
Medea gives to Jason [iii.844-61] a salve concocted of the juice of a crocus
which sprang from the bloody ichor of the bound Prometheus, as he was
tormented by the eagle. He anoints his body, and his spear and shield, with the
salve. The salve being of both the fire of Prometheus and of the earth [realm of
the goddess, by whatever name she is known], out of which the crocus has
grown, Jason becomes for the day and the task—like Aietes himself—the
invulnerable king of the ‘mesocosmic world’; and is thus enabled to perform the
task in the day allotted.
And this task is like a second crossing of the Pontos; ‘Ares’ field’ is the water
become earth; like the Pontos, never before ploughed, as every ‘day’ in which
Aietes ploughs it is an ‘aeon’, which ends with the dying of the sun; and is
reborn with its rebirth. Every moment the impress of the Argo on the Pontos, by
which it becomes ‘fruitful’, is melted back into ‘dead’ stillness in Poseidon’s
heart. So, equally, the field of Ares, sown with the ‘teeth’ of the dragon [the only
parts of it which are not as flowing as the Ocean it lives in], becomes ‘fruitful’ in
giving birth to the ‘sown men’. But their life is short, like that of the waves
fleetingly marked by the keel of the Argo, as, in being killed by Jason-as-
Prometheus [equally fleetingly], all their earthly strength is assumed into him by
the day’s end, making him the human equivalent of the Fleece which is the outer
form of the fire of Prometheus; and thus fit to bear it with him into the outer world
of ‘Hellas’.
Aietes, however, will not accept his worthiness. His ‘reason’, it is said, was that
he realized that the task had been achieved with Medea’s help. But he needed
no reason: as Ares’ surrogate, it was his role to maintain the Fleece in the
‘middle world’, poised in the branches of the tree of life between Within and
Without. Nourished by the fiery ichor of Prometheus pinioned on the crags
above it and the still Pontic water of the dragon below: the cosmos in stilled
But ‘Ares’, and Aietes his ‘earthly emblem’, in willing this still tension was not
within the evolving mind of ‘Zeus’, which in the person of Athene, born from it,
willed the Fleece [as later she willed the Palladium] to be taken into the outer,
microcosmic world, and hung there in His temple, in what was then the central
city of that world, that He might himself exfoliate among the people of that [this]
And so He ‘allows’ the Fleece to be stolen, as He had allowed the fire before it
to be stolen; Jason being, like Prometheus, an emanation of Himself’.
So. in the very night following his ploughing of Ares’ field, Jason, with Medea’s
[indispensable help, steals the Fleece from the tree where it is hanging. Medea
sprinkles a potion onto the eyes of the dragon to lull it to sleep, and Jason
carries the Fleece, described by Apollonius in images of sunlight and fire, to the
Argo, in which it is placed: the living fire in its living womb. Jason sits beside
Medea in the stern, and the Argonauts row it out onto the Euxine before dawn.
Had Medea, as the spirit of the ‘oceanic’ counterpart to the fire, priestess to
Hecate of the Underworld, not also entered into the ‘womb’ of the Argo, so that
she and Jason form the ‘holy androgyne, balancing within themseles the
contrary cosmic energies of Fire and Water, Light and Love, the Quest would
have been stillborn.
As it was, it was born only to die, its promise failing of fulfilment.
In an ironic foreshadowing of this failure, Medea is compared by Jason to
Ariadne, her cousin; and there are more parallels than he tells of, or then knows:
both betray their father to help their lover, and each of them is, in her turn,
abandoned by her lover; Theseus’ honour and name surviving the act, Jason’s
But that is yet to come. As the sun rises over the mountains above Colchis, the
Argo, sailing before a wind sent by Hera, is far from its shores on the Euxine,
whose flowing nature counters the form-fixing power of the sun, of which King
Aietes is the earthly representative.
He, unwilling to lose the Fleece, pursues the Argo with a large fleet. But not
knowing which of the two possible ways out of the Euxine the Argonauts will
take, divides the ships into two fleets, one of which sails to, and through, the
passage between the Sympligades (the rocks now rooted to the earth with the
passing of the Argo between them). The other, commanded By Medea’s
brother, Apsyrtos, takes the course which the Argonauts (guided by Hera) have
taken, to the mouth of the ‘Istros’ (the Danube); rowing into it by a shorter
passage, he and his ships reach its ‘other mouth’ at the head of the Adriatic
before the Argo, obstructing its further passage towards home.
This is the emergence, under the heavily detailed ‘naturalistic’ surface, of the
Hero from his venture into the ‘Underworld’. And this ’emergence’, this passage,
is far more difficult than the entry into it through the Clashing Rocks; for that was
a trial of the body, this is a trial of the soul, which must somehow emerge into
the ‘upper’ world of the two-eyed mind while holding to its sense of being, in the
womb of the Argo with Medea, the androgynous I-and-Thou, I and Other.
Single-eyed, like the Cyclops, instinctual, yet able to function, as Odysseus was
able to, in the discriminating ‘upper’ world of the mind. [Orpheus was unable: he
‘looked back’ to see if Eurydice was following him out of Hades, and so
externalized her, lost her from himself.]
Alone, Jason would have been able to achieve a part of this task. The Fleece,
as the emblem of the mesocosm, could be carried to Orchomenos, and hung in
Zeus’ temple, [as Aaron’s rod, within the Ark of the Covenant, could lie in
Solomon’s]; the world was ready for that. And Zeus himself could pass through
it from the Inner to the Outer world, and back. But only ‘within the temple’;
outside it, the world must remain polarized in order to perform its time-space
functions, the Divine remaining only an echo, a shadow, a fragrance, in the lives
of mankind. Medea’s and Jason’s ‘crime’ was, in a sense, the antithesis of that
of the titans assaulting Olympos: of breaking into this ‘outer’, polarized world as
if they were the indestructible androgynous union of contrary energies. But they
were not, they were but a simulacrum of such a being, as is every ‘marriage’,
deep though the love between the contractual partners may be.
The only true ‘androgyne’ must be born whole into the world, as was Jesus to
Gabriel and Mary, becoming in his single person the union of God transcendent
and immanent, of Fire and Air with Water and Earth; Alpha and Omega.
And this came to be in Beotia also; but not yet.
The compromise suggested to Jason by Apsyrtos, through which he will be
allowed to continue to his ‘earthly kingdom’, is that the Fleece, which he won in
accord with the terms of his trial, may go with him; but that Medea may not. [By
a like, unstated, ‘compromise’, Theseus left Ariadne behind; and Aeneus, Dido
(though by then the spiritual meaning of the myth was nearly drowned in
‘romance’; as indeed is Apollonios’ tale itself); both of these ‘heroes’ survived the
severing from their inner being, and ruled their earthly kingdoms as earthly
But Jason and Medea were earlier, like the Archaic to the Classic, and the
power of the ‘Underworld’ in their world was still great. It was possible [and
necessary as ‘preparation’] to bring the Golden Fleece into the ‘outer’ world, to
irradiate it with an awareness of the Fire of Heaven within it, heavily veiled by
the wool of which the world is woven, sheltering mankind from Light it was not
able to bear. And for this to be achieved, Jason had to be allowed to return to
the outer world. But without Medea; as, according to the surface story, she had
betrayed Aietes, her father, in helping Jason to gain the Fleece.
So a ‘compromise’ was arranged, allowing Jason to go with the Fleece, but
without Medea; which however, at her insistence, Jason then repudiated. He
swore undying love to Medea, promised her ‘marriage’ in Hellas, and they lured
Apsyrtos to a ‘tryst’, where Jason killed him. In the ensuing confusion, the
Argonauts rowed the Argo into the open Adriatic, with both the Fleece of Fire
and Medea sheltered within it. The androgynous being which was Jason-Medea
was still whole. But tainted by the killing of Apsyrtos.
What was the need for Apsyrtos to be killed? In a naturalistic tale [where a
‘slipping away by night’ might so easily have been devised], it seems an
‘unnecessary’ act. Which is suggestive of its mythical importance. But what
was it?
Of its moral importance, there was never any question in the minds of later
‘mythographers’ who were more aware of matters of social ‘right and wrong’,
than of the radiance of the One infusing the fruitfulness of the Many: Jason and
Medea, two human beings, had murdered her brother [surrogate for her father];
they must live therefore in moral darkness, until cleansed of their blood-guilt by
But Medea is not a human being (for all Apollonios’ decoration of her as one);
she is the priestess, the outward image, of Hecate, goddess of death, and an
expression of her ‘underworld’qualities of water and earth, balancing the solar
fire of Aietes father, Helios, in the mesocosmic world of the Euxine. As such,
she may not leave the mesocosmic plane without irreparable injury to the
tripartite cosmos. Her desire to do so is indicative of the loss of numinous
power in the myth, in romanticizing it into a love tryst [its ‘divine’ quality
maintained only by the fiction of Eros’ arrow]; in which Medea, in denying her
own inner divinity, becomes a mere ‘personality’.
Even Apollonios is aware of the fragility of this ‘personality’, showing her
swinging wildly from joy to despair; but maintaining it to the crucial passage out
of the mesocosmic world at what is said to be the ‘head of the Adriatic’, where
her insistence on the possibility of her entering the ‘upper world’, and the
acceptance of her belief by Jason, results in his slaying of Apsyrtos; [who, as
Medea’s half-brother and the grandson of Helios, is her natural counterpart in
nature, the other half of the mesocosmic androgyne]. As though he, Jason,
were the rightful successor to Apsyrtos in androgynous unity with Medea,
grafted onto the stock from which he severs the original [‘wild’] branches.
But, like any graft, though it may produce fruitfulness, it is an act not of nature,
but of will; and the will must be at one with The Will; or the graft will not take.
Which is a mythic ‘warning’ embedded in the ‘moral’ view of the killing of
Apsyrtos: the danger to the cosmos of any ‘heroic’ action—’good’ or ‘bad’—
which proceeds from the ego centre of an individual. In the daily world, among
ordinary men, these are, of course, occurring at every moment; but the spiritual
work of ‘heroes’ is to cross the boundaries between the three worlds; which may
be achieved only with the will and blessing of the ‘gods’. As the Argonauts
learned, in their encounter with Phineus, tormented by the Furies, before
entering the mesocosmic world of the Euxine.
Now, as they are about to leave it, they learn that effectively they cannot; for the
graft appears not to be within the Will of the gods; unless violence is done to the
very fabric of the mesocosmic world, in the murder of Apsyrtos.
But is the appearance the reality? Or only the ‘outer mind’ of Zeus, his
Promethean aspect suffering the ravaging of his own claws ‘to increase his
wisdom’ in coming to experience the ‘outward’, life-flowering aspect of Himself
[like Odin suspended from his ‘world tree’ Yggdrasil, to reach down and gather
the broken twigs, to make the words of proliferating life]? For it will have been
known, even as late as Apollonios, that the numerical value, in Greek letters, of
‘Jason’ [1061], is the same as that for ‘Apollo’. Which suggests that Medea, in
willing to go with him, is uniting herself, as the watery aspect of the world, to the
higher vibration of the Fire which in the ‘Euxine’ world has the qualities of Ares.
And the numerical value of Medea herself is 68, one less than that for Athene.
The ‘graft’ then is from the elemental fire of ‘Ares’ to the spiritual fire, and Light,
of ‘Apollo; and Medea, in accepting this graft, allows her brother Apsyrtos, the
emblem of Ares and the ‘unfruitful’, ever-unchanging mesocosmic world to be
severed from her, and killed. [So does Ariadne allow her half-brother, the
Minotaur to be slain by Theseus; of which also it may be said that the
underworld is ‘grafting’ itself to a ‘higher vibration’ of spirit. But the graft fails at
the moment of their entry into the ‘upper’ world. That of Jason-Medea holds for
Entering the ‘upper’ world, but still far from their homeland, and under divine
displeasure, the Argonauts hardly know where they are, as they sail and row
down the Adriatic, and back, with Hera helping and guiding their course; and
Zeus, ‘unforgiving’ of the murder of Apsyrtos [so that they will experience the
pain of the nonetheless ‘necessary’ crossing of the boundary between the
‘worlds’], misguiding and obstructing them.
Reaching the mouth of the river Po, they are almost unable to continue for the
stench of the still mouldering corpse of Phaeton under the waters into which he
fell when stricken with Zeus’ thunderbolt. But, gathering their strength, they row
up the river to its source, where, in accord with the geography of the day, they
enter the headwaters of the Rhone; and sail down it, guided by Hera away from
the effluent which would have carried them to a gulf of the Ocean Stream
surrounding the world, where the ‘underworld’ is at one with the ‘overworld’,
beyond the ‘pillars of Heracles’ or ‘Atlas’ or the Caucasus: whatever may be
chosen as an image to hold Heaven and Ocean apart; beyond which opposites
coincide, and all is One and Nothing.
In sheltering them from this experience, to which they are unequal, Hera guides
the Argo in that course of the river which will carry them to the Mediterranean,
the ‘middle of the world’ of which she is the queen; knowing that ‘Jason-Medea’
are an essential step, a preparing of the ground, towards her own later
transfiguration [or Assumption], through Heracles, into the Light of Heaven.
The Argonauts, now in the relative familiarity of the Mediterranean, make their
way without difficulty to Aeaea, the island home of Kirke, sister to King Aietes,
and aunt to Medea and Apsyrtos, with the hope that she will be willing and able
to lift the stain of ‘blood-guilt’ from Jason and Medea.
Upon touching the shore of Aeaea, they discover Kirke ‘bathing her head’ in salt
water. To dissolve in the flow of the ocean the shapes which had formed in it in
the night as a nightmare, in which she had seen ‘fire devouring all the magic
drugs which she used to bewitch her visitors; but she managed to put out the
flames with the blood of a murdered man’.
Which appears to say that she is aware, in her soul, that the murder of Apsyrtos
was necessary in order to maintain the balance in the world, which was in
danger from an overabundance of fire. Which indeed would have been the
[symbolic] condition, if Jason had brought the Golden Fleece into the outer world
without Medea, its watery and earthly counterpart. [Of this danger they have
already been warned, in their encounter, at the mouth of the Po, with the stench
of the body of Phaeton, who had so wildly driven the chariot of his father Helios
that the world had been in great danger of burning; and even now all the waters
of the Po had not been able to quench his smouldering remains.]
Kirke, then, understanding that if Jason had brought the Golden Fleece [of
heavenly fire] into the ‘upper’ world without Medea, its watery counterpart, it
would [as with Phaeton] have created a fiery white light shining directly upon the
earth, instead of through the sheltering rainbow veil of water, is willing to lift the
blood-guilt from Jason and Medea; but not to take from them the trials still
before them, they being the necessary experience of any passing of the
boundaries between the worlds, altering the very nature of whoever is able to
pass them, he having to surrender some important part of what he thinks of as
Only Jason, of the Argonauts, is fully prepared for the coming trials of passage,
because only he has ‘ploughed Ares’ field’, so taking into himself all the strength
of Ares’ fire[ so making himself the equivalent of Aietes her brother. And the
trials are now those of water; of which the first indication is on Aeaea itself,
where he alone is proof against the wiles and ‘drugs’ of Kirke, which—but for his
protection of them—might have lured his men [as she lured those of Odysseus]
heroes though they were, out of the discriminative ‘two-eyed’ world, ‘back’ into
the watery instinctual world of which she, in the service of Hecate, was mistress.
From this danger Jason protects his men by telling them ‘not to notice’ her:
spirits unrecognized are spirits without power.
But he himself must recognize her, as he requires her absolution from his and
Medea’s ‘blood-guilt.’ This she gives [at her hearth, the centre of her dwelling,
the still point round which her existence turns, all hearths being metaphysically
situate on the axis mundi], recognizing that, as the bearers of the Fleece, the
‘body’ of the Fire of Zeus-as-Prometheus, they were enacting the necessary role
for that moment in the era, to prepare it for the coming of the true, earth-born
‘androgyne’, [under such thick ‘natural’ veils as to be almost indiscernible as
such]: Heracles; through whom all the strength and virtue of Hera (of Earth and
Water; god Immanent) would become one with the Fire and Air of Zeus (god
Setting forth again, in greater hope, towards their homeland, the Argonauts are
again guided and protected by Hera. She calls upon the Ocean to be still to
allow their passage [to evolve out of its ‘dragon’ aspect, [where it cannot
‘comprehend’ the upper elements of fire and air contained in the body of ‘earth’
which is the Argo], into its gentle ‘maiden’ quality. Which is personified in Thetis,
the sea nymph [who will become the mother of Achilles; of whom it is here said
that he will wed Medea in the Elysian Fields. For Medea is Helen at this earlier
turn of the unwinding spiral of mythic time; being of water and the root chakra,
as Helen is of earth and the groin, she is the primal form with which the fire
which is ‘Achilles’ becomes one].
To enable the Argonauts’ passage, Hera also calls upon fire and air, in the
persons of Hephaestos and Aeolos, to be still. So that all which remains
unstilled is earth, her own element; for in her remains the resistance of the ego
to its penetration by the phallic emblem of the Argo. So did the water of the
Euxine fear the passage of the Argo into it; there Athene of the overworld saw it
through; here it is Thetis, emblem of that water [now made ‘fruitful’ by the dragon
become maiden], who enables the passage of the Argonauts back into the
‘outer’ world.
Which Hera knows must come to pass, for the spirit of the world to evolve, so
she wills herself to be overpowered. Her body, as the Wandering Rocks, flails
about to obstruct the Argo’s passage, which is made smooth by the nereids-aswaves
around them guiding them like a shoal of dolphins; the Argo being steerd
by Thetis herself. Hera, standing by Athene on a rock, watches; and is so
frightened that she ‘throws her arms around Athene’.
Why? What is her fear? Of the danger to the Argonauts? There is no danger
[though they themselves may not know it]; she herself is protecting them.
Her fear is for herself, as the invaded virgin of Earth. So she holds to Athene, to
gain the understanding, which is ‘Athene’, of the essential union, beyond
appearances, of Light and Love. Which enables her to allow the nereids to
guide the fifty-manned phalllic Argo into the midst of herself.
Passing through the ‘wandering rocks’, the Argonauts row into the calm harbour
of Drepani, near ‘the meadows where the cattle of the sun are kept’. [iv.968]
Which is to say, where the setting sun each day sinks into the underworld; out of
which point the Argonauts now emerge. Having sailed from the ‘west’ at Iolcos,
through the Clashing Rocks to the sunrise rim of the world at Colchis, and
having sailed back through the ‘underworld’ in a full circle against the course of
the sun’s nightly passage, they emerge again into the light of the ‘upper’ world at
‘western’ Drepani, having in their circular journey, mythically stilled the whole
Drepani is said [iv.984-94] to be ‘a rich and spacious island, under the soil of
which is said to lie..the sickle used by Cronos to castrate his father Ouranos.
From this..the Phaeacians..trace their origin to Ouranos. Both here, and in the
Odyssey, where Odysseus reaches the end of his trials, the island and its
people are not quite of this world. As the descendants of Ouranos, they are in
direct touch with that mode of being which is beyond the polarities established
by the separation of Ouranos and Gaia—a separation which is now maintained
by the Titans Prometheus and Atlas, the one at the eastern limit of the outer
world, the other in the west. Drepani, at the mythically middle point of this world,
its navel, is the point where all opposites may be reconciled; this being
emblemized the the king and queen of the island, Alcinous and Arete: he the
example of wisdom, or Light; she of Love.
The second fleet of King Aietes has also arrived at the island, having sailed
there through the Sympligades, [the rocks now rooted to the earth by the Argo’s
passing through them] at one with the westward course of the sun; encountering
at Drepani the Argonauts who have arrived against it. Thus there will be either
irreconcilable battle as the two uncomprehending energies encounter each
other; or there will be a bringing of ‘the feud to an end, without recourse to
arms’; which is the intent of King Alcinous.
His proposal is simple: if Medea is still a maiden, she must return to her father; if
she is married, and the marriage consummated, she must remain with Jason.
The response of Jason and Medea is equally simple: he ‘marries’ and lies with
her that night; [so ‘grafting’ her from the ‘apple’ tree of the wisdom of ‘Colchis’ to
the ‘oak’ tree of life].
But these are ‘waves’ on the surface of Necessity, just as ‘it was necessity that
made them marry now’, [iv.1164-5] and not, as they had wished, in Jason’s
homeland; as only here, on Drepani, the threshold of the underworld and the
middle world, is this ‘marriage’ possible: earlier, there is too great a watery ‘flow’
for grafting, the scion would not take; later in the middle world, the sun is too
great, the scion would dry and wither, again not taking. [Which, in the event, for
complex reasons, both ‘natural’ and mythic, happened anyway.] So, if Medea is
not ‘grafted’ to Jason here, she must be carried back to Colchis. Which, having
cut herself off from her family, in fleeing with Jason, and killing her brother, the
emblem of the tree of which she too was part, she has nothing in the world to
cleave to except Jason.
If the Colchians refuse to accept Alcinous’ judgment, then he would ‘close his
harbours to their ships’; which is to say, as Drepani is the gateway between the
underworld, through the middle world, to the overworld, that the flow of energy
between them would cease. Again, this is not, properly speaking, a decision of
the king; it is merely a statement of fact, of Necessity. Medea, grafted to Jason,
is become of the middle world; her physical substance is so altered that she
cannot be restored to the underworld. Together she and Jason have become,
like the rainbow, as much of fire as of water, the bridge between the upper and
lower worlds, blooming out of each end of the Argo, the holy ark, their mother.
So the wedding, and consummation, take place in the womb of Earth [the body
of Hera, of the later dispensation], in the ‘navel’ of the world, where all energies
gather and are resolved. The cave later came to be called the ‘sacred cave of
Medea’ [iv.1156], as the ‘omphalos’ where the energy of the Underworld,
embodied in her, was enabled to flow into the ‘middle world’, through being
fused into the one hermaphroditic being, Jason-Medea.
Had this ‘grafting’ not taken place, Medea could not enter the middle world; for
she is herself ‘sister’ to the serpent guarding the Fleece from dangerous
‘strangers’ from elsewhere: her coils fill the mesocosm with their energy, and
would create havoc in the middle world [as indeed, when the ‘graft’ is broken,
they do], if not ‘oned’ with the overworld, Apollonian energy of Jason.
But, even though this ‘at-one-ment’ is achieved on Drepani, and the fleet of
Aietes gone, the trials of the Argonauts are not ended. For they are still only in
the penumbra of the middle world and ‘Zeus is still angry’, energies are still
unreconciled; so ‘a northern gale swept them south for nine days and nights’ to
the shore of Libya, where ‘shoals were everywhere, with tangled masses of
seaweed from the depths..; and beyond, sand stretching to the dim horizon’
[iv.1233-59]. A world between fire and water, both unfruitful; a world beginning,
in posse; a world which the Argonauts must pass through in order to bring their
experience of the underworld into the ‘middle world’ which is Hellas.
Not knowing, as ‘waves’ themselves, what the inner demands of their Quest are,
the Argonauts respond to their condition despairingly. They even wish [iv.1252-
5] that they had cast all fear away and dared to sail once more through the
Clashing Rocks, even against the will of Zeus’; for the land in which they find
themselves is so barren and so ‘inescapable’, that it is beyond their imagining
how it could be a possible way to their ‘home’. So they would rather have again
endured the terrors of the macrocosmic Sympligades [they not knowing that—
due to their own passing through them—the rocks were not clashing any more;
Aietes fleet had sailed unharmed between them; like Drepani, they had become
an open passage between the worlds], where only Athene, as Zeus himself
manifest, could see them through; but where their souls would have felt ‘Zeus’
the world spirit, even if only in the moment of being destroyed by it; rather than
on this barren ‘mesocosmic’ shore where they can feel nothing. As if they were
living between the heartbeats of the cosmos.
The state of the land in which the Argonauts ‘drag their feet along the endless
beach’ is compared, against ‘natural’ likelihood, [iv.1282-8] to ‘some doomed city
when the gods’ statues are sweating blood, and bellowing is heard in temples
(and) men wander ghostlike in the streets’; for they have come to that point in
the world where its end is interwoven with its beginning—illustrated [iv.1300-3]
by the comparison of the lamenting of Medea’s women to the crying of
unfledged,fallen birds—but the end is all they can see themselves. The forms of
familiar daily life, like the symbols by which we relate to the ineffable
macrocosm, are crumbling as we move among them in a world of half-formed
shapes where we are as outcast as Cain.
As they drag themselves along in this despair at scorching midday, the Libyan
nymphs enter Jason’s aura; the very nymphs ‘who found Athene when she
issued in her gleaming panoply from her Father’s head, and bathed her in the
water of Trito [iv.1310-12]; thus balancing his fire with water, so that his word
becomes flesh. It is now the parallel work of the nymphs to guide the Astronauts
from the plane of potential to that of actuality.
They tell Jason, and he afterwards the others, that they must ‘repay (their)
mother for what she suffered all the long time she bore you in her womb’.
[iv.1327-8] Their ‘mother’ being interpreted by Peleus to mean the Argo, they lift
it onto their shoulders and carry it through the desert, following the tracks of the
horse of Poseidon, which has emerged, as foretold, from the waters. [In like
manner did the Jews, in their desert, carry the Ark of the Covenant, which had
originally carried ‘them’ in the person of Noah and his family. In both myths, the
trial by water becomes one by fire.] The Argo is like a rainbow over their heads
[‘arc en ciel’], veiling them from the burning Libyan sun to an intensity they may
bear, at the same time fixing in their minds their ‘water’ experience of their souls,
so that [like Percival ‘asking the question’ of the Grail King] they may cognize
and ‘know’ them.
The trial ends at the shore of Lake Triton, a great lagoon of the sea, in whose
salt waters they lay the Argo; and search the shore for water for their parched
They find it [iv.1397-1402] ‘in a holy place where still on the previous day Ladon,
a serpent born from the earth, guarded golden apples in the territory of Atlas..
Now, however,..destroyed by Heracles, it lay against the trunk of the apple tree’.
Heracles too had been ravaged by thirst and had kicked a rock, bringing forth
abundant water; from which the Argonauts gratefully drink.
‘The previous day’; on which Heracles, in receiving the apples from the apple
tree, had ended the life cycle of the aeon, he being then ready to ‘rise’ in fire to
heavenly Olympos, become one with his ‘Father’, thus ‘glorifying’ Hera, his
‘earthly Mother’, carrying her in his own fire-glorified body. And the Argonauts,
bringing the Fleece, the body of Promethean fire, out of the waters of the
underworld, are ‘the next day’, the emblem of the aeon to come. [Mythic time,
like the Christian calendar, being circular, at every moment it dies and is born;
eternity living ever at its navel.]
The Argonauts are shown the spring bursting from the rock by the nymphs, for
whom, the Hesperidean apples having been taken by Heracles, the ‘world’ is at
an end. At the western extremity of the aeonic structure, like King Aietes in
eastern at Colchis, the nymphs see the ‘heroes’ who come to them on Quest as
dangerous to the living structure and, in consequence with the ‘ugliness’ of
‘otherness’ . [‘A man most foul in his violence and his appearance’ Aigli says of
Heracles. So, doubtless, did the dragon-aspect of the maiden see St. George;
the ‘under world’ of desire being unwilling to be subsumed, through love, into the
light; which, however, the ‘maiden’ aspect wills herself towards: Ariadne to
Theseus; Medea to Jason.]
‘Refreshed at last’ [iv.1455] with the springing water, five of the Argonauts seek
over the sands for Heracles. Whom they do not find, coming no nearer than the
glimpse keen-eyed Lynceus has of ‘a lonely figure on the verge of that vast land,
as a man, when the month begins, sees or thinks he sees the new moon
through the clouds’.
Properly speaking, they are the microcosmic ‘new moon’, bringing the fire of the
sun through the waters of the moon, to ‘flesh’ as the Fleece upon the earth;
whereas Heracles is the last sliver of the old moon, drawing the created world
[flowering from the dream-shapes of ‘Zeus-as-Prometheus] back into the One;
before that instant of whole darkness, when the One is Nothing.
And now, bitten by a snake, Mopsus dies. He has been their guide, their
interpreter of divine will, which they must now live without as they enter more
fully into the microcosmic world; they must perceive event and direction there
‘through a glass darkly’, through the discolouring veils of mind and body.
But they are guided by Triton himself [a god half in the form of ‘other immortals’,
which is to say: mankind; and half like ‘a monster of the deep’] out of the ‘lake’
through a narrow passage in its northern shore, to the southern shore of the
Mediterranean, which is now more nearly the ‘natural world’ than when they
were on it before. And yet not entirely; there is one more ‘gateway’ to pass
The prow of the Argo touches the eastern shore of Crete, an appropriate
landfall, as Crete is both the southernmost land of Greece and the home of its
earliest culture. But they are not welcomed. The island is guarded by the
unsleeping Talos , ‘a bronze giant’, whose function—under ‘Zeus’ instruction’—is
to prevent Crete, the outpost of ‘Hellas’, the microcosmic world, from invasion;
as the great serpents, also unsleeping, in an unbroken continuity of ‘time’, [fail
to] protect the boundaries of the mesocosmic world. The Argonauts, now
emerging from this ‘serpent’ world, partake of its energy, which is seen as
destructive to the evolved forms of the microcosmic world.
Talos himself is said to be invulnerable, except in one part of him alone, his
ankle. Medea, Hecate-on-earth, seeing this weakness, focuses her attention,
her energy, upon him, causing the very land he thinks he is protecting to turn
against him, so that ‘he grazed his ankle on a sharp rock, and ichor flowed out of
him like molten lead’ [iv.1681-2]. He was the last of his tribe, and appears to
represent the dying of the civilization itself, which has fed and fed upon its own
entrails, its own past, until its outer crust is glistening and hard, and
‘invulnerable’; but which, being only a bright empty shell of what it was in the
fullness of its life, crumbles to nothing [like an old Yang line], when ‘invaded’ by
the formless, Yin energy of the Flow.
Although they go ashore on Crete, they soon discover that they have still not
reached their ‘home’, the inner world of Hellas, [or Achaia, or whatever name it
is given]; Crete not being wholly of that world culturally, but the home of an
earlier culture, become—as such cultures do—a penumbral ‘underworld’, the
realm from which Ariadne, Medea’s cousin, enables Theseus to escape;
paralleling Pontic Colchis, whence Medea has enabled Jason to escape. And,
as the Argonauts there encountered and entered the underworld, so they
emerge from it here.
But not easily; but as through the Christian’s ‘dark night of the soul” when he
becomes aware that his awareness of ‘god’ has died within him. The waters are
black with ‘the darkness that people call the Pall of Doom; no beams of
the moon penetrated the black emptiness… They could not tell whether they
were drifting through Hades or still on the water’. [iv.1697-1701] Having lost
theirThe microcosm which they have re-entered
Theseus, with difficulty crossing this same expanse of water, arrives at Delos, as
symbol of his return to the sunlit inner world of ‘Hellas’. So do the Argonauts
arrive at such a rocky island, not called Delos, nor identified with it, except that ,
like Delos, it was not ‘natural’, but placed there by Apollo’s radiance, as Delos
had been floated on the water by Poseidon and Zeus, for his birth. After making
their libations there to Apollo, they continue, ‘blessed with fair weather’ into the
microcosmic world of ‘Hellas’, making landfall at Aigina; and from there returned
to Iolcos, whence they had originally set out on their Quest.
Jason and Medea’s trials, however, are only beginning.
The Quest has been ‘achieved’ when Jason hangs the Golden Fleece in Zeus’
temple in Orchomenos, then the capital of Beotia, in that the Fleece [like the
mistletoe of other mythic traditions] has been taken from the mesocosmic oak
tree, its ‘natural’ home, and grafted to the wall of Zeus’ temple in ‘the outer
world’; becoming the ‘gate’ though which His energy may enter the outer
‘natural’ world, and draw that world back into ‘Himself’: ‘breathing in and out’.
But it has not been achieved, in that the ‘holy androgyne’ comprising Jason and
Medea, who brought the Fleece—the ‘flesh’ of the original Promethean fire—
from the mesocosm to the microcosm, breaks apart into its constituent and
contrary elements: Jason turns his affection to Glauce, making her his queen;
Medea, exfoliating out of the still circle of her ourobourean self, becomes like a
wild serpent in the microcosmic world, which fears and misunderstands her.
Jason—without her, having no more life than a shadow—wanders the world
aimlessly, ending at last on the dry shore by Corinth, under the prow of the Argo,
from which he intends to hang himself. The Argo, its own work being now long
accomplished [as the ‘cistern’, which (in Blake’s image) had contained the
outpouring of the ‘fountain’ of divine fire, is itself dry and empty (and forgotten);
and its prow, rotted through, falls on Jason, and kills him.
How did this happen? What went wrong?
Jason’s ‘abandonment’ of Medea reads as a transference of his bond—or
‘graft’—to the princess of the oceanic mesocosm, to an emblematic figure of the
microcosmic, or ‘inner’ world’. And yet, the two are not entirely discrete: the one
is an evolution of the other, into a form suitable to the ‘inner’ world. ‘Glauce’,
whose name means ‘owl’, suggests the owl sacred to Athene, as though she is a
‘mask’ for Athene, an ‘entempling’ of Medea [the number of whose own name
differs by one digit from that of Athene: 68 to 69], as the virgin Mary may be
seen as an entempling of the world-flowering-and-dying Eve, emblem of the
‘natural’ world. So that Medea, in Corinth, may be said to be Glauce.
But Medea [within the ‘Medea’ of the romantic veiling] does not so see it herself.
She will not accept the ‘entempling’. Although the graft has made her fruitful,
she rejects it, and destroys the fruit, her own children by Jason.
Why? Why does she withdraw from the Light, back into her oceanic nature?
The ‘withdrawal’, on the naturalistic surface, appears to be rather that of Jason,
who, safely returned to the microcosmic world, prefers a queen of his ‘own kind’,
who brings him a kingdom. The ‘withdrawal’ is real, but the meaning given it is
‘romantically’ illusive. What Jason ‘withdraws’ from Medea is his sense of
himself as ‘Prometheus’, the bearer of the fire of transcendent Zeus. [So does
Lucifer refuse to cease to be Himself, the ‘highest angel’ in Heaven; seeing
‘Eve’—God-as-Omega—only as darkness into which he falls unendingly’. He is
unable to see her because he is unwilling to see her, unwilling to surrender his
sense of himself to offer her—as Gabriel, at the next turning of the evolutionary
spiral, does to Mary, in the emblem of the six-petalled lily—the transcendent
‘macrocosm’ which is her counterpart, with whom she is One.]
Jason is unwilling, [or ‘unable’, for reasons of Necessity] to surrender any aspect
of his awareness of his own inner ‘Zeus-self’; as if such ‘surrender’ would
endanger his fiery purity; and the feeling indeed is that Zeus himself will not
‘bend’ to his own Hera-self in Medea. And so, as Hera was Jason’s patron and
protector, Jason is divided against himself, and cannot stand. And as Medea,
the energy of the watery underworld, has not been ‘entempled’, and the ‘graft’
with Jason is broken, she, as the image of God Immanent, or Omega, ‘runs
wild’. Earth, which was Gaia and Rhea, and is now Hera, remains apart from
Ouranos-Cronos-Zeus; broken apart by the Titan Prometheus in the east, held
apart by his brother Atlas in the west; maintaining the polar dichotomy of the
microcosmic world, which enables it to function. But not to evolve.
But—feeling, as it is now able to, the presence of Zeus in his temple in
Orchomenos, breathing himself through the Golden Fleece, the ‘flesh’ of divine
fire, into the microcosm—it yearns to evolve, yearning now not only for the
fragrance of His breath, but for His full presence; which corresponds to His own
yearning to be one with Hera, as God Omega.
Which lies within the will of Necessity—portrayed as Zeus’ own—at the next turn
of the spiral. For which a new ‘hero’ must be born.
The ‘way to Zeus’ having been opened by the bringing of Promethean fire, in the
body of the Golden Fleece, into the microcosmic world, Orchomenos, its work
complete, must pass away, and Thebes be founded, as the centre of the ‘outer’
world, by Cadmus, brother of Europe, on ground sown with the other half of the
teeth of the dragon he had slain at Ares’ spring [later the Castalian spring of
Apollo] at Delphi; its walls, in echo of those of Troy, of which it became an outer
emblem, being built—though not, as Troy’s were, by gods—with stones and
To Thebes, Zeus himself ‘descends’ [the Golden Fleece having opened the
world to Him in His fullness], and lies with the queen, Alcmene; and her body
gives birth to Heracles. His very name, ‘the glory of Hera’, is indicative of his
life-task: to bring ‘Her’, the image of the whole natural world of earth and water,
into harmony with the air and fire of ‘Heaven’; Omega at one with Alpha. [As
they always are; but everyman must learn and come to know this in his soul by
performing Heracles’ ‘twelve labours’ symbolically in his own life.]
When this multiform task has been achieved, Heracles is able to free
Prometheus, his forerunner as Zeus-avatar, from the ‘dream’ in which he was
imprisoned; and is himself burned free of his bodily nature to return to Himself in
‘Heaven’ [figured, for the images of the myth, as Mt Olympos]. And the cycle is
Tiruvannamalai, 12th of March, 2014.

Grail Notes



Roger Maybank





(All page references to the two-volume Everyman edition.)

Where to begin? Perhaps with a disclaimer that these notes are in any way an exhaustive exegesis of the Quest of the Holy Grail. Indeed, the more I read it the more I wonder if any system of notes could ever contain it; but as for myself, I have not even tried.

What I do claim is that , such as the notes are, I feel them to be in essential harmony with the spirit of the Quest; how­ever faulty they may be in detail. All, I believe, came out of the Quest itself; none, I hope is a forcing of the Quest to suit a theory; none, I am sure, for all that they are often distinctly different from the opinions of earlier commentators, is an invention or an imposition.

One difficulty in annotating such a text is that it is a patch-work, within which two spirits are warring; that of ethical, world-improving, orthodox Christianity, which speaks openly; and that other voice to this day mysterious, which is a unique syncretic blend of pre-Christian teaching …chiefly Celtic, but in one very important aspect at least, Germanic … and the Gnostic-mystic teaching within Christianity itself. How this blend came about we do not yet know; but we do know that who­ever the men were who first wrote of the Quest, they knew whereof they spoke. Of this the Quest; as we have it today, is itself an eloquent witness. For, despite the interwoven monkish commentary and the distortions and inconsistencies throughout, producing an extraordinary amalgam of intuition, remembrance, aspiration, orthodox belief and rationalisation, the miracle is that the primary theme of the Way by which the seeking soul may transcend the warring polarities of this world irradiates all the tales and confusion and explanations with one inexplicable healing light.

The symbolism by which this Light is conveyed to the mind is, as we shall see, elusive and extremely complex. And yet, if we forget what we ‘knowof the social and religious and intel­lectual climate of the time when it was forming, and read the Quest in its own terms, what it is saying is abundantly and exhilaratingly clear. The Quest cannot be dealt with apart from the Arthurian cycle as a whole, for it is presaged throughout the earlier books, and it is posited as the prime cause of the Round Table’s dissolution. For the ‘Quest’ and the ‘Round Table’ are, as it were, opposite sides of the same coin. As illustration of this, let us consider the beginning of events which are said to lead towards the Enchantment of Britain and the Quest which will lift it.

These begin in Malory’s Book II, Chapter I, with the relating of the adventures of the brothers Balin (who struck the ‘dolorous stroke’ which caused the enchantment) and Balan. The sequence of events is as follows:

A maid loved a knight; the maid’s brother killed the knight; the maid sought help from Lady Lisle of Avalon, who gave her a sword in a scabbard, to be pulled out by the knight who, as her champion would slay her brother; the sword is pulled out by Balin in Arthur’s court, after all others have failed; The Lady of the Lake arrives in Arthur’s court and claims the head of Balin because he ‘slew her brother.’ Balin slays her in the middle of the court because she ‘had caused the death’ of his mother. Arthur feels dishonoured by the slaying in his court, buries the lady honourably, and banishes Balin. Sir Lanceor, envious of Balin’s success with the sword, professes to wish to avenge Arthur’s dishonour; He meets Balin in the field, fights with him, and is slain by him; Lanceor’s beloved appears and kills herself for grief on Lanceor’s sword; Balin laments and meets his brother Balan and tells him what has happened: the deaths he has caused and Arthur’s displeasure. And is grieved. His brother says: “So (am I). But ye must take the adventure which God will ordain you.”

The unique beauty of the Arthurian Cycle is contained in this phrase (which is what Balin himself had said upon with­drawing the sword from the maiden’s scabbard and then refusing her request that he sheath it again. For ‘adventure’ comes only when the sword is unsheathed…(as we shall see clearly when we examine the Quest.) From the moment that the adventure’ begins, which is to say, when the world moves from Rest to Action, every man must accept the pains and perils of its course. The sequence of events of Balin’s ‘adventure’, listed above, are in fact a paradigm of all Arthurian adventure: all action breeds counter-action, and even ‘good’ action breeds death. Indeed we are a far cry here from the world of the fairy tale, where the poles of good and evil are established and clear. It is true that throughout the cycle ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people exist. But time and again these are seen to be but relative terms, depending upon the circumstances of another character-narrator. The particular beauty of Arthur himself is that, although he too must, since he too is part of the world, make moral choices, these are usually restricted to outrages upon the honour of the court; which is to say, to oppose those who would bring Action within the precincts of the court. Thus, no matter what the Lady of the Lake may have done, it was a grave offence to strike off her head in the court. The court thereby is ‘dishonoured’, for it exists as the hub, turning on itself, of the wheel of ‘adventure’ turning around it, and it must not be drawn out into this world, for if it does it will be destroyed.

Indeed, the seeds of its destruction are already within it for just this reason. Before the action of the cycle proper, before Arthur became the perfectly balanced symbol-king, in whom all conflicts are resolved (of whose loving behaviour the extreme example is his complaisance towards the allure of Lancelot and Guenevere; reconciling that polarity too in himself.) he has taken part in Action, which has necessarily bred Re-action

One such action is told, parenthetically, early in the story of the adventure of Balin: (p.58) “Alas.. that so worthy a knight as (King Lot) was one should be overmatched, that of late time afore had been a knight of King Arthurs, and wedded the sister of King Arthur; and for King Arthur lay with King Lot’s wife, the which was Arthurs sister, and gat on her Mordred, there­fore King Lot held against Arthur.” Even incest is not con­demned; it is only stated that the ‘injured party’ didn’t like it. And so waged war. And the result of this action was that King Pellinore killed King Lot; and so Gawaine, ten years after he was made knight, revenged his father King Lot by killing King Pellinore. And so it continues, action breeding counter action. And already the seed of ultimate destruction has been planted in King Lot’s wife, for Mordred becomes such a polarised antagonist that Arthur is at last driven from his central position into one of Action. And death, and resolution in the Lake, follows after.

While the Round Table lasts it is the hub of the wheel of Action; knights in quest of adventure set out from it like the spokes of a wheel, and the fruits of their action on the rim of the wheel .. knights defeated in combat…are sent back to the court; or, more exactly, the fruits of withdrawal from action are sent to the court, for it is when the defeated knight asks and is given quarter that he is sent to the Court to honour it, and is himself honoured there, however black he has appeared to be in the outer world. Indeed, even in the outer world there is only one form of evil at last, which is self-seeking. The noble knights are those who ride abroad for the glory of the Court (i.e. the Whole) and not for their own.

The nature of this world then is the millennia-old conception of the hero. .the individual.. proceeding out from the Centre, the point of Rest, into the Outer world of opposites in search of experience, returning time and again to this centre of Rest, bringing with him his experience and renewing his strength through surrendering himself to the Awareness of the Whole. Why then the Quest? which has been felt always to be both part of the Arthurian cycle and opposed to it; the way of the Round Table is the Way of World-embracing, and the Way of the Quest is the Way of World-denying.

The Quest seems to have come about, (to have been necessitated) because of the feeling on the part of some that the Way of the Round Table has declined into a mere round of worldly adventure, that the world is loved not as a Way beyond or through, but for itself. As if the knights had become totally enthralled in Maya, so that, in Yeats’ words ‘the centre will not hold.’ Hence the need for the stricter discipline of the Quest. Of this division of mind and soul the western world is only too painfully conscious. We have struggled for centuries at least between on the one hand a love for the round of the world in all its variety, sensing the divine immanent in it, and refreshing the spirit by a regular return to the centre, and on the other the equally strong sense that it is only by rejecting the enchantments of the world that true wisdom and surrender of self may be achieved.

It would appear that an overemphasis of either of these ways damages the other; so that from the point of view of the Quest the land is ‘waste’ and ‘enchanted’; whereas from the point of view of the Round Table, it is the Quest itself which will destroy the wheel of which the Round Table is the centre. And both points of view are correct, for it is the Implicit conclusion in all the Arthurian tales that both ways must be pursued at once, not one to the detriment of the other; for Love of the World vs. Love of the Void is the ultimate pair of opposites to be overcome.

Arthur has sailed to Avalon. The Grail has been removed to ‘some place in the west’. Unless they reappear together they will not reappear at all.

After the victory over King Lot and eleven other kings, (p.59) “Arthur let make twelve images of laton and copper, and over­gilt it with gold, in the sign of twelve kings and each of them held a taper of wax that burned night and day; and King Arthur was made in sign of a figure standing above them with a sword drawn in his hand and all the twelve men had countenance like unto men that were overcome. And all this made Merlin by his subtle craft.” That is to say, the king…the centre of the turning wheel, which is manifest only while his sword is drawn… is lord of all twelve spokes, or kings, who represent the twelve months of the wheeling year. The ‘signs’ of the kings suggest the signs of the zodiac. So they wheel round Glastonbury Tor. “then (Merlin said) when I am dead these tapers shall burn no longer, and soon after the adventures of the Sangreal shall come among you and be achieved.” The resonance of this state­ment is difficult to write out in lines. Firstly, the withdrawal of Merlin (‘dweller in the sea’) back into the ocean of un-differentiation will mean the death of the Arthurian cycle.. the twelve tapers extinguished. Arthur’s sword will then be sheathed, in the lake, and Arthur himself will withdraw within. And the world will be ‘enchanted’, which is to say, bereft of its revivifying centre. Arthur and Merlin are, in fact, a double king, a king without and a king within…such as we find in nearly every description of the Grail castle. Arthur is the outward shape, Merlin the inner coherence (“for the most part of the days of his life Arthur was ruled much by the counsel of Merlin” p.71). When Merlin withdraws…or because of the maid Nimue is unable to reach Arthur, the outer king’… the society crumbles; Arthur takes sides;- And then, since the centre no longer holds, all is action, which is to say: chaos; whereas harmony is action suffused with a sense of stillness. And so ‘ the adventures of the Sangreal shall come among you and be achieved” because the Way within is no longer communal but solitary. The land is seen to be Waste, because there is no relief from action, and all action ends in grief and death. As the Buddha saw. And so there is a solitary turning inwards in quest of the-Grail Castle; and whatever one enabled to see of the Grail, one brings back to the outer world, which is then ‘reborn’; i.e. it is seen afresh. Those four knights who achieve the Grail, in whole or in part, are in fact but the four aspects, the quaternity, of every questing soul.





Galahad, the paragon, remains within. Like the Buddha. Perceval remains without, a witness. And Bors and Lancelot, bodhisattvas, manifest the light to the world. But all are one, as they were one where the holy ship touched the shore; for none can return to the outer world unless he has remained, at the same time, within.

This, indeed, is the central teaching of the Quest: achievement of the union of the world within and the world without, and a dwelling in them both. Otherwise, the Grail King is ‘maimed’ and the Land is ‘waste’, for they have fallen apart.



(all page references to the Everyman version)

Book XIII p.163 “At the vigil of Pentecost”… This feast, now of so little moment, is perhaps the most important in the Arthurian Cycle; and is the time, above any other, when the knights are called out to adventure. The reason for this appears to be that Pentecost, falling seven weeks after Easter, has the significance both of the apostles going forth after they have been filled with the Holy Spirit (the number seven representing as always a stage of spiritual growth), and the coming to an end, year after year, or the perfect state or ‘many in one’, of Christ in the midst of the world, which has been achieved at Easter, which is symbolized by the May-wreath (the flowering perfect circle) and by the knights gathered round the Round Table, and of which the human state is strict chastity (the unbroken circle); a state, that is to say, of awareness of the world yet of withholding from it, of remaining within. After Pentecost the circle breaks apart and the world flowers and mates and bears. The round of Action, of Adventure, has begun.

p.164 “therein came twelve nuns that brought with them Galahad..’ He is then surrendered by the inner world of patterns to the outer world of full manifestation. He is surrendered to Lancelot, his father; into whose image he must grow and then transcend; for he is his father reborn.

p.164 “we pray you to make him a knight.. Then said Sir Lancelot: Cometh this desire of himself? He and all they said yea. Then shall he, said Sir Lancelot, receive the high order of knighthood as tomorn at the reverence of the high feast.” Galahad must of his own will proceed into the world as a knight, and not upon the vigil of Pentecost, for then the circle yet obtains, but at the first moment (“the hour of prime”) when the flowers may be scattered abroad. Reborn as a knight (which recalls the scene on the Gundestrup cauldron where the footmen, the once-born, are dipped in the cauldron by a God-figure …probably Teutates, identified with Hermes…and are re-born, and ride away as knights on a higher plane) he must live in the world of Adventure and gain its experience so that he may return at last within, bringing back to Being the energy of Becoming.

p.165 “..the Siege Perilous, where they found letters newly written of gold, which said: four hundred winters and four and fifty accomplished after our Lord Jesu Christ ought this siege to be fulfilled. It seemeth me, said Sir Lancelot, this siege ought to be fulfilled this same day, for this is the feast of Pentecost after the four hundred and four and fifty year. The time of the Quest is thus not in historical time. And the number 454 suggests that what may have been indicated was the number 432 plus 22. Twenty-two being the age of Galahad when he is knighted (corresponding to the 22 major trumps in the Tarot,. with which much of the symbolism in the Quest is linked) the remaining 432 represents the number of winters until his birth 432 being the ever-recurring number (see Campbell: Oriental Mythology, p.116) in traditions from India westwards, apparently emanating from Sumer, used to denote the length of an aeon.

p.166 “..when (the king and all the knights) came to the river, they found a stone fleeting, as it were of red marble, and therein stuck a fair rich sword..”

This then is a nodal point (expressed later in the quest by the chapels throughout the landscape) wherein the waters which bear up the manifest world solidify into red rock (red the colour of action, as of death, of the philosopher’s stone, of all change) out of which Galahad draws the sword… thus initiating the ‘adventure’ of the Quest…as an earnest of his being in harmony with the ever-living waters. whereas, as Lancelot says: “Who that assayeth to take the sword and faileth of it, he shall receive a wound by that sword that he shall not be whole for long after.” This is a strain of thought which we encounter throughout the Arthurian cycle: a warning against the pride which will take on any quest, unquestioning whether or not it is within his destiny. In this particular instance, the warning is against any man, unready, unprepared, unchosen, presuming that he can bear the strain of holding the two worlds together, that he can, in Buddhist terms, dwell both on the make-believe land and in the Shining Sea.

p.168 “(Galahad said) recommend me unto my Grandsire, King Pelles…and say(him) on my behalf, I shall come and see him as soon as ever I may.

Born (as Heinrich Zimmer says, in ‘The King and the Corpse) of the lineage of the Keepers of the Grail, he is enabled therefore, by his living awareness of its existence, to sustain action in the outer world of Cause and Effect without being enmeshed therein.

p.169 “(said Galahad) now have I that sword which sometime was the good knight’s Balin le Savage…and with this sword he slew his brother Balan, and that was great pity, for he was a good knight, and either slew other through a dolorous stroke that Balin gave unto my grandfather, King Pelles. The which is not yet whole nor not shall be until I heal him.”

The question of the sword and the ‘dolorous stroke’ are central to the whole myth, and are extremely difficult of elucidation. The sword, firstly, is fundamentally the same as the two-edged sword in Revelation 1:16, that is to say, the Logos, the Word made Flesh, dividing the Whole into polarized halves.

Balin and Balan are symbolic of these ‘halves’, which are yet One. As halves they have ‘adventures’ in the world from the moment Balin draws the sword from the scabbard. Balin’s adven­tures culminate in his sword breaking in the castle of King Pellam (Pelles) after he has killed King Pellams brother, and piercing King Pellam with a spear he finds in an inner room where an old man is lying on a bed. King Pellam is immobilized by the wound, and there are then two kings dwelling Within, that is, in the Castle, and none Without, in the world. The sword of manifestation is therefore broken. Here, as so often in the Quest, there is a sense of something eluding me, of much of the radiant life slipping away; but the intimation seems to be that Balin assaulted the Grail Castle as it were physically, the result of which was to maim the king who maintained the balance between the inner and outer worlds, and the resultant splitting apart of these two worlds.

Balin’s own ceasing comes soon after, in a mistaken battle to the death with Balan; for the natural end of action without radiance from the Centre is brother against brother. And these brothers being but aspects of the same soul (Balin is called the knight of the two swords) that soul has wrought its own destruction, being ignorant of its own nature. And so the King waits within and the world waits without, both waste, until Galahad shall come.

p.171 “supper…Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that then thought the place should all to drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam more clear by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to behold other, and either saw other, by their seeming, fairer than ever they saw before. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word a great while and so they looked every man on other as they had been dumb.”

This then is the communion of Pentecost, when (to quote Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, p.549) ‘the Grail, the summoning angel of this hermetic quest, appeared in Arthur’s banquet hall, (and) the time of historic deeds and aims.. abruptly ended. The moment was apocalyptic. The age of the Holy Spirit had begun.’ The great occasion is symbolized by the ray of light in their midst seven times as bright as day, which is to say their spirit is collectively raised to the seventh power, the plane of the thrice-born (for as knights of the Round Table they are already twice-born),. and they are struck dumb: which is to say they have been drawn within, beyond the separative realm of thoughts and words. They live for the moment of the Grails presence in the inner world of undifferentiation, where each is more beautiful in his seeming’ or ‘appearance’ precisely because the Light of the Unmanifest is lighting them all. Then, when the Grail departed, “had they all breath to speak.” And time and place are again time and place; but in all the knights now remains the longing, first expressed by Gawaine, to behold the Grail perpetually,. which is to say, to live in the state, briefly experienced, of the eternal present.

p.172 “Alas, said Arthur…ye have bereft me of the fairest fellowship…in the world, for they shall die many in the quest…and therewith the tears filled in his eyes.”

The mourning is not his alone but of all the women, and “among all other Queen Guenever made a great sorrow.” For the women, and particularly the queen, are symbolic of the world in which, until now, all quests had been undertaken; but in their seeking for the Grail, the knights turn their backs on the world and pursue the Way of Renunciation. The nature of Arthur’s lament is that but very few of the knights will be equal to this Quest and that the others, the great majority, will perish in the attempt; for such a quest he sees as mistaken for the majority, who are seeking above their present capacity in wishing, like Gawaine, to behold the Grail perpetually. Their proper destiny is to continue in the everyday world of adventure, refreshing themselves at need by periodic, seasonal gatherings-in at the Round Table.

p.174 “And then they put on their helms and departed, and recommended them wholly unto the queen.’

Even in pursuing the Way of Renunciation, they express their love of the world. If one does not love the world, how can one love that from which the world proceeds?

p.174 “They departed on the morrow (from the castle that hight Vagon)..and every knight took the way that him best liked.” The meaning of “Vagoneludes me, but it suggests ‘wandering’ and ‘wave’, so that the sense would appear to be a castle on the back of the Ocean. The knights wander out on this Ocean, each on his own way, each perceiving it as land unknown, land unfamiliar but not altogether unlike land they have already known. And the less ‘worthy’ or able for the quest they are, the less strange will it appear. Cf. for example p.213 where Gawaine is weary of the Quest for ‘he found not the tenth part of adventure as he was wont to do, which is to say he finds himself in a kind of limbo where his old life is gone…his ‘adven­tures’…but because he still casts his thought back to it, and them, he is unable to proceed with the new life he professes to have chosen, which new life is precisely to transcend such ‘adventures.’

The strange, unknown land therefore is perceived as the bound-less ocean only by Galahad, Perceval and Bors (p.235, 239) when they have achieved the necessary state of mind to permit their perceiving it so.

p.178 “ the abbey lieth Nacien the hermit.”

Who has been dead many years, even centuries, but whose body is waiting with Galahad’s shield. And who is yet alive (or another of the same name, which amounts to the same thing) and has counselled the knights (p.173) against women accompanying them on the Quest. For time in the Arthurian Cycle is mythic time, happening now and always, circling as the year circles; the time not of history…as Christianity claims to be historical, to its own detriment…but of poetry, which is to say, of life.

p. 180 “Sir Melias beheld (many delicious meats)…and thought it marvellous, but he had no hunger, but of the crown of gold he took much keep; and therewith he stooped down and took it up and rode his way with it.”

Until a knight accosted him and claimed the crown and overthrew him. For Melias, a new-made knight, though no longer subject to indulgent physical desires, is still subject to spiritual pride and ambition; and it is this self, being still clung to, which is assaulted and overthrown. Galahad then carries him back to the abbey where a monk says that he will cure him in seven weeks; for the cure is spiritual as well as physical. And the lesson is that he who seeks adventure above his capabilities or preparation courts death; from which only a higher soul can save him. What is said again and again, both in the ‘Quest and throughout the Cycle, is that the great sin is pride.. of which the symbol is often the castle standing alone…pride of spirit which isolates the ego in a dead, destructive round of self-seeking; a round into which everyone passing near is drawn. Until a knight in the service of the Round Table, that is, of the Whole, overthrows him, and sends him for penance to the Round Table; where, in his new humility, he finds honour. Galahad has said to Melias that the adventure is greater than his strength; but he gives way to Melias’ desires, for every man must discover such things for himself.

p.182 “Galahad came unto a mountain where he found an old chapel. .”

The landscape is dotted with chapels and abbeys and castles which are places of rest, not of trial; which are points, that is to say, where the world of manifestation is open to the Shining Sea which underlies it. The knight repairing thither is refreshed for his further trials, which are intended so to ripen his mind that he need at last no longer seek the Sea through its veiled appearance in the abbeys and chapels, but may enter the ship floating openly on the Sea itself.

p.190 Sir Lancelot is shriven by a hermit, and what he has experienced is explained in terms of the life of Christ and there is no life in the explanation. The moralizing of the holy men lies like a grey hand on the radiance of the legend, but is yet unable to obscure it.

So, despite his great sin in the eyes of the orthodox church, Lancelot is able to continue on the Quest because his life, for all the honour he has found in the world, has been humble; and his love for Guenever, the symbol of the world, has been true and transcendent and never self-regarding.

By contrast, Gawaine doesn’t thrive in the Quest for he is so without humility that he will not be shriven (p.186). It is not that he will not turn away from the world, but rather that he is unable to see any other way to turn. For he sees the Quest of the Grail only as Without.

Book XIV p.192 “..he knocked at her window and the recluse opened it and asked Sir Percevale what he would.”

The recluses, monks and hermits, as the nodal points in the world, know what is happening everywhere in the world, for they are of the Ocean of which the world is waves, and know it. The knights, not knowing that they too are waves, wander over the surface of the Ocean, thinking its fleeting forms to be fixed. Yet they know where to ask for guidance. So the recluse ‘opened her window’ to Percevale that he might perceive something of the truth through her.

p.193 “Fair nephew, said (the recluse), your mother is dead, for after your parting from her she took such a sorrow that anon, after she was confessed, she died. Now God have mercy on her soul, said Sir Percevale, it sore forethinketh me; but all we must change the life.”

As his personal mother, as a human being, his mother must die as everyone must die. But as a symbol of the world to be won she is ever alive in him (“I dream of her much in my sleep.”) and is carried with him wherever he goes, in all his worldly adventures. But now, as he is learning to forsake the world in the Quest of the Grail, he learns that his mother, its symbol, is dead. “All we must change the life.”

Aunt’s and ‘uncles’ are frequently guides, because they are close in spirit to the hero but are yet bystanders, whereas his parents are directly in his path: his mother as his image of the world, his father as his image of himself. Both of these must be overpassed.

p.193 “Also Merlin made the Round Table….(etc. until)..for since ye have departed from your mother ye would never see her, ye found such fellowship at the Round Table.”

There is here none of the exclusivity of orthodox Christianity, since ‘heathen’ as well as Christians repair to the Round Table, and this sense of its being open to noble men of all races and beliefs is present throughout the Cycle. For Merlin, the Dweller in the Sea, created the Round Table that men ‘might refresh their spirits again and again by communion there between worldly ‘adventures’, where they function as individuals. Knowing themselves always to be of’ ‘one fellowship’, which is to say of one nature, they may do battle with one another in the world, yet remain always aware that each is also a ‘fellow’; for in the world of Action each is polarized into opposition towards other, but after every battle, unless one of the knights is locked in dark egotism, there is reconciliation; and all opposition is dissolved in the currents running round the Round Table, where polarity ceases to exist.

Naturally, for this, knights abandon everything personal, even parents and beloved; if they didn’t, they could not join in this holy company, where there is no one to follow, no spirit to become an idol, only a gathering round a circle, like flowers in a May wreath. And in the centre of the circle, or Round Table: nothing. For it is the union of men which creates the circle; without their forming it there is no circle, no Round Table; just as there is no wreath except if the flowers form it. For the empty circle is but a symbol in manifestation of the Unmanifest which yet supports all.

p194 “..evensong time. And then he (Percevale) heard a clock smite; and then he was ware of an house closed well with walls and deep ditches..”

Time and again it happens thus: a knight does not so much come to a place as become aware that it is there, near him. (This is much more true of Malory than of his source the (‘Queste del Saint Graal’). So that the feeling of a dream landscape is very strong: a landscape both general, so that all may wander therein, as in the ‘collective unconscious’, and yet particular, for each has in it the adventures proper and necessary to his own soul.

p. 195 Percevale sees King Evelake of the city of Sarras..(of which Galahad in his turn becomes king just before achieving the Quest)..who has been alive since the time of Christ, thus contributing to the sense in the myth of the ‘ever-present’. He had been always “busy to be where the Sangreal was; and on a time he nighed it so nigh that Our Lord was displeased with him, but ever he followed it more and more, till God struck him almost blind.”

This appears to suggest again the danger in the pride of one to reach where he is not prepared to reach (even though he be king of Sarras, the holy city)…and so he is struck ‘nearly blind’, not by God’s displeasure, but by the nature of God, for if one is unready the light is greater than the eye or the frame can bear.

“Then the king cried mercy and said: Fair Lord, let me never die until the good knight of my blood of the ninth degree be come, that I may see him openly that he shall achieve the Sangreal, that I may kiss him.”

Evelake then, like the knights who are seeking to find Galahad that they may accompany him in the Quest for the Grail, for they think themselves unworthy to achieve it on their own, is waiting to experience the Grail through Galahad and be released from his fixed shape, his body, (in which he has been fixed by his awe of the Grail, his incapacity to bridge the chasm between what he experiences as It and what he experiences as himself) through the intermediary of Galahad’s body…”that I may kiss him”…; which is to say, the form which is perceptible to the outer mind, and so subsumed, through him, into the otherwise incomprehensibly awful Grail. Which is the purpose of all religious ritual and symbol, to carry the soul out of himself and into the All.

As to the ‘ninth degree’, what is begun at one comes to completion: at nine. Odin, whose mythic life appears to be in part the life of the Grail King, hung on the World Tree, the Ash, nine days and nights, self-wounded in the thighs…that is, withdrawing inwards from the world of polarity…and is then, by his own efforts, reborn in higher wisdom. So now the knight of ninth degree, who is Galahad, is King Evelake himself reborn in the fullness of wisdom. As the voice spoke in the Quest: “When that knight shall come the clearness of your eyes shall come again and thou shalt see openly and thy wounds shall be healed.”

Ch. IV and V: Percevale loses his horse in battle, is saved by Galahad, runs after him on foot, fruitlessly, comes upon a yeoman on a hackney, leading a fine black horse, which Percevale asks for, but the yeoman mayn’t yield it and Percevale will not seize it, so continues on his. way. He is then passed by a knight on the horse, and the yeoman comes up soon after, saying that the knight has stolen the horse by force, and offers the hackney to Percevale to do battle. Percevale accepts, but the knight spears through the hackney and rides off, while Percevale is left shouting after him to stay and fight on foot.

p.197 “When Sir Percevale saw he would not turn he cast away his helm and sword, and said ‘now am I a very wretch, cursed and most unhappy above all other knights.’ So in this sorrow he bode all that day until it was night.”

Not realizing that he was passing through the darkness wherein some part of himself dies, so that he becomes more fit for the Quest. If he were aware that he was passing through a trial of spirit, it would diminish the nature of the trial. But in refusing to steal the black horse and in accepting to ride on the hackney he has brought upon himself what he construes to be humiliation; for even while his higher instincts are carrying him surely through this dark trial., his mind is still attached to the values of the knightly world.

p.197 “And then he awaked and saw afore him a woman which said unto him right fiercely: Sir Percevale, what doest thou here? He answered, I do neither good nor great ill. If thou wilt ensure me, said she, that thou wilt fulfil my will when I summon thee, I shall lend thee mine own horse which shall bear thee whither thou wilt. Sir Percevale was glad of her proffer, and ensured her to fulfil her desire.”

The woman appears to be the world, fierce because he is not active in it; for he has withdrawn…against the opinion of his mind…into a state of doing neither good nor ill, which is to say, inwards, into stillness. But because his mind is still bound to the outer world, he accepts its offer to return to its service, not realizing that it is no longer the neutral field of action which it is for most men and had been for him; for his destiny lies no longer in the world, and so the world for him has become dangerous and fierce and black.

p.198 “And so anon he was upon (the horse that was inky black) and…he rode by a forest and the moon shone clear. And within an hour and less he bare him four days journey thence, until he came to a rough water the which roared, and his horse would have borne him into it.

“And when Sir Percevale came nigh the brim, and saw the water so boisterous, he doubted to overpass it. And then he made a sign of the cross on his forehead.”

Paradoxically, what Life has now to offer Percevale is Death; together, balancing in the void. To save himself therefore, he makes the sign of the cross, which is to say in accepting the first he nearly brings the second upon him-self. Whereas his true course is. not to experience these opposites alternately, but both he invokes the creation of forms, the marriage of Heaven and Earth, the world of primal patterns, to defeat the actual world in which he has become enmeshed. Which is to say, he clears his own mind of the illusion of created forms and so they have no further power over him.

p.198 “then he saw that he was in a wild mountain the which was closed with the sea nigh all about..”

The turbulent Ocean into which he was so nearly cast, all unready, is still around him, for his mind now is able to accept that it is so near. But he is still not ready to venture upon it. In token of his greater understanding, the landscape is yet more stylised than it was, more a pattern for land than land itself, more a symbol than literal ‘fact’. And in it there are only wild animals, which is to say beings beyond cognitive thought, towards which state he is himself proceeding. But because his mind is still making shapes on the ocean, shapes to conform to the view of the world which he has been taught, he must undergo another, most important ‘adventure’

“He saw a young serpent bring a young lion by the neck… With that came a great lion crying and roaring after the serpent. Sir Percevale marvelled and hied him thither…the lion began battle with the serpent. And then Sir Percevale thought to help the lion for he was the more natural beast of the two.” (He wounds and kills the serpent and the lion fawns on him like a dog, and sleeps that night at his feet) “And when Sir Percevale slept he dreamt a marvellous dream, that there two ladies met with him, and that one sat upon a lion and that other sat upon a serpent, and that one of them was young and that other was old.” (The lion-woman praises and thanks him, but the serpent-woman says:) “I complain me of you that ye have done unto me, and have not offended unto you… Say me for what cause ye slew (my serpent), for the lion was not yours.”

This is astonishing. The monkish glosses have interpreted Percevale’s action as right action in the name of Christ vs. Satan, but the true meaning clearly far transcends this. Equally clearly the monks had no conception of the purport of the event, since they didnt suppress it, but merely contented themselves with the comment of the ‘good old man’. interpreting the dream: “And why she blamed thee that thou slewest her servant, it betokeneth nothing.”

But it betokeneth everything.. For Percevale has still refused to pass beyond the world of action. He is still taking sides, both physically and emotionally (for he sees the lion as the more natural beast), still refusing to see that the lion is not his; which is to say, that his youthful, knightly self is not his true self, but only a part of it, as the lion is an emblem only of the first half of life, of the young year, of birth and growth. He still will not identify himself with the dying, old year, or with the dark aspects of life… and then beyond that, to see that growing and dying are all one, and that it is his particular destiny, of which his Quest for the Grail is a symbol, not to involve himself further on one side or the other, but only to observe and so be wise.

p.200 “ I would, said ( the lady on the serpent), for the amends of my beast that ye become my man.”

The monks have been busy altering and interpreting these pages,. to the glory of Christ and the confounding of Satan, but they have left sufficient for the higher claims of the Quest still to be clear. Percivale refuses to become the servant of the lady on the serpent. If he had not refused, having seen the error of his earlier action, he would have been granted the wisdom of the serpent and, his trials completed, would have been ready to embark in the ship when it first touched the shore of the desert island. But since he refused, he must face ‘the strongest champion of the world’ as promised him by the lady of the lion, whose praise and gratitude were but mockery. For the ‘champion’ is the World itself in all its beauty; which he still will not recognise is but Illusion. So he waits the arrival of the champion, caressing the while the (apparently) tame lion; living, in fact, in a fool’s paradise. And so the world he so loves nearly brings about his destruction for a second time. For he had not mastered the lion at all; only the serpent can master the lion.

p.203 “And anon she was unclothed and laid (in the bed). And then Sir Percevale laid him down by her naked; and by adventure and grace he saw his sword lie on the ground naked…and bethought him…and made a sign of the cross in his forehead.”

So he survives his second trial as he survived his first, by calling to mind in the sign of the cross, the world of patterns underlying the world of forms, and so the forms are seen to be arbitrary and illusive, and cease. He is saved ‘by adventure and grace’, which is. to say his high spirit has projected into phenomena the symbol which will withdraw him out of its toils and into his true self. If the soul is high enough, Grace always supervenes, for it flows through the open Soul from the All into the Many.

“..and therewith the pavilion turned up so down, and then it changed unto a smoke..” So in eastern tales shapes and events vanish in smoke and the sleeper awakes. Only here the sleeper, Percevale, doesnt awake; nor will he until he has seen the Grail. But he has passed into a new life, of which the symbols are two: Firstly “he rove himself through the thigh.” Which, as symbolic castration, is a sign of his abandonment of the deceptive world of the senses. This particular symbolic act however is so central to the Quest, as it is indeed to mythology generally, that further discussion of it is better suited to our later general consideration of the symbol of the Grail King.

Suffice it to say now that the wounding is a sheathing in oneself of the double-edged sword of manifestation. Or, if it is preferred, the phallus turned in upon itself. The result is the same: energy, the energy of Becoming, fertilizes the stillness of Being.

The second symbol of Percevale’s passage to a new life, a higher plane, is his entering into “a ship, and so departed from thence.’ He has embarked upon the Ocean of potential form. But not, like the head of Orpheus or of Bran, floating and singing on the ocean itself; for Percevale there is a ship in between, which would seem to symbolize a church. not the orthodox Christian church, but a church in the sense that a body of symbolic form is necessary to carry the spirit of man on the boundless ocean. For the meaning of the Quest seems to lie in its being a Way for men; it is not the account of the superhuman, but of the human. Even Galahad, high though he is, and born ‘within’, is but the highest aspect of the quaternal questing soul. Even Galahad rides in the ship over the Ocean. And not alone; for although the 0uest could not be accomplished without him, he could not accomplish it alone. For he is only the highest aspect of every one of us. And so our guide in our own Quest is the Quest itself, and its elaborate and radiant symbolism is the white-sailed ship for bearing us out on the Ocean.

Book XV p.207 So, (Sir Lancelot) took the hair (shirt) and put it upon him and .so departed at evensong time.”

Much more than the other knights on the Quest, Lancelot is given moral instruction. Doubtless this is in part because the monks who glossed the legend were uneasy about his fitness for the Quest in view of his liaison with the queen. But it is suitable to his character as the aspect of the quaternal questing soul which is most deeply rooted in the world; like the body he is a part of the created world…and necessarily in love with the world…more completely than Percevale or Bors; and like the body he is more individualized than they and so, in our humanistic tradition, more ‘lovable’. Which is exactly his symbolic purpose in the Quest: to draw towards it the minds of those men for whom Bors and Percevale are hardly more than ciphers, and for whom Galahad is so spiritual as to be quite without reference in the created world. Lancelot therefore, the most ‘human’ aspect of the questing soul, draws the minds of men upwards, or inwards; at this stage what must be overcome is the overwhelming sense of the actuality of the world. For until this is overcome, as in the case of Gawain it is not over-come, the soul can have no sense of the Reality which infuses the world of forms. At this stage therefore, the disengagement, moral precepts and a narrow way are appropriate.

The trials of Bors and Percevale, by contrast, are not to teach them how to withdraw their senses from intimate involvement in the world, (for their virginity is symbolic of this having already been achieved…virginity being not necessarily of the body, but indicative of the state of drawing inwards beyond the multiplying demands of the senses); their trials are to enable them to transcend their limited understanding of the world, so that moral guidance which is helpful to Lancelot, teaching him which side to cleave to if he would pursue the Quest, must in their case be abandoned as an illusion of duality if they are to progress; they must see that ‘good’ and ‘evil1 are but one of the myriad pairs of opposites which create the world, and cease to partake in them.

As to Lancelot, his disqualifications are not what they seem: indeed he is’ chosen’ for the Quest precisely because his love of the world has been so great (in the symbol of Queen Guenever) The worship of the holy world has been the manner of worship of all the knights of the round table. This worship is personified by women in general, and by the Queen in particular; and so the greatest knight is he who loves most greatly, he who loves the Queen herself (who never has a child, for she is the World as beloved, not as mother). And so, as Lancelot has been most wholehearted in his love of the (holy) world, his love. never declining into mere pretence and appearances, but always in awe and humility before the beloved queen, so he is, of all the ‘worldly’ knights, the most worthy and single-minded in quest of the Grail. For giving oneself to the world is the first giving, and in this he is supreme. And so, once he learns the necessity of re-orienting his giving of himself, and his longing corresponds to his giving, which is a time of humiliation and sitting still and suiting his will to the will of ‘God’, he is worthy and able to come near to the Grail.

And because of his ‘worship’ in the world (and of it), Lancelot is best fitted, once the Grail has been ‘achieved’, to convey an outer sense of it to the world, because better than any other he moves in both worlds. What Galahad experiences is not communicable, except to Perceval and Bors insofar as they witness and partially share the experience. Perceval can communicate little, except to those who can reach his cloister. Bors, going back into the world, communicates something of this highest experience, but, as it were, without imagery; so that the less evolved can grasp but little. So Lancelot.. the loins of all.. remains to convey less of the highest experience, but in such colour and imagery that the world can perceive the presence and beauty of the Inexpressible, and be drawn to the Quest in its turn. And all four knights are aspects of the single questing soul.

p.213 “(Sir Lancelot) rode into a deep valley, and there he saw a river and a high mountain. And through the water he must needs pass, the which was hideous; and then in the name of God he took it in good heart. And when he came over he saw an armed knight, horse and man black as any bear; without any word he smote Lancelot’s horse to the earth; and so he passed on, he wist not where he was become. And then he took his helm and shield, and thanked God of his adventure.”

Having humbled himself and followed the directions of ‘holy’ men and women, and lain all night in the open, away from any shelter but a cross, which betokens a withdrawal inwards of his spirit from the world of forms to the world of patterns, he finds himself caught between a high mountain and turbulent water…(the setting is more clearly stated in the Quest from which Malory. has drawn his translation), and ‘through the water he must needs pass’. Which he does by surrendering himself to ‘God’, and having passed to the ‘further shore’, a symbolical higher plane of life, his horse, emblematic of his lower self, is killed, now that it is necessary or possible. Of which he is aware, and of the black knight as a symbol of death, of trans­ition, for he ‘thanked God’.. for enabling him to die.

Book XVI p.213 “(Gawaine) rode long without any adventure. For he found not the tenth part of adventure as he was wont to do. For Sir Gawaine rode from Whitsuntide until Michaelmas and found none adventure that pleased him.”

Nor old Sir Ector de Maris, nor some twenty other knights each had encountered. For all are seeking adventure within the terms of the world, as was their habit; which seemed to them the way to seek the Grail. So they neither progress on the Quest, nor thrive in their old worldly manner, since they give themselves wholly to neither. For either world is but the world within them, and since neither now is living within them, but only dry thoughts and vows on the one hand and half-hearted backward looks on the other, so the land around them is seen as a land without life. For the Divine can be found by diving into the world or by holding back from the world. And the two, despite appearances, are not mutually exclusive: each is ultimately the other. But one or the other must be pursued with fervour, for the divine must be experienced, not posited. When at last both sides are known, both the lion and the serpent, both served and lived, then the hero may sail freely on the Shining Sea.

p.2l3-4 “I cannot hear of (Sir Lancelot) nor of Sir Galahad, Percevale, nor Sir Bors, said Sir Ector. Let them be, said Sir Gawaine, for they have no peers…an these four be met together they will be loth that any man meet with them.”

This is a casual statement of great truth; for the four knights represent, as stated above, the quaternity of the archetypal questing soul:


Perceval Bors


Such a quaternity is, as. Jung has demonstrated; an image of wholeness. Naturally, then, if these four knights be gathered together they will be ‘lothfor another to join them, for another, by raising the figure from four to five, changes it from a symbol of wholeness to a symbol simply of man. And so the soul falls from its attempt to contain the world, and is instead contained by it.

p.220 The trials of Sir Bors. These are a degree less stylised, more of the normal Arthurian world, than are those of Perceval; for the role of Bors in the quaternity is to be nearer the outer world, for he is to be the witness to the world of the achieving of the Grail. Therefore he must always maintain a clear vision of the world, else what he has experienced and witnessed he will be unable to communicate in terms which it will be able to comprehend.

p.220 “Sir, said Sir Bors, I am a knight that fain would be counselled in the quest of the Sangreal, for he shall have much earthly worship that shall bring it to an end.”

It is with this mind that even the best of the knights, except Galahad, begin. For they must seek within terms which their lives have taught them to understand. But as they seek so their reasons for seeking cease to be mirrors set round themselves, and become the Thing itself. Concerning which the old man counsels Bors: “Certes, said the good man, that is sooth, for he shall be the best knight of the world, and the fairest of all the fellowship. But wit you well there shall be none attain it but by cleanness, that is pure confession.”

Which is to say purity of heart and motive. These being established in Sir Bors, so that he needs no further moral guidance, his trials are a teaching of the snares of the illusive world, in which it is impossible to do only good; for each act of participation only ensnares a man the deeper. So, having been shrived and put on bread and water until he achieve the Grail, (but the good man finds in him ‘so marvellous a life and so stable” that all he is made to wear in token of his Quest is a scarlet coat; whereas Lancelot, for his correction, is given a hair shirt) Bors rides abroad. And he begins the Quest by making the same mistake that each of the knights makes, for it is the nature of their training: he takes sides. As did Perceval between the lion and the serpent; as did Lancelot between the black warriors and the white. In the first case the monkish glosses praise the action as being right action; in the second they blame it as being wrong action. As to Lancelot, the lesson is perhaps proper to his state of evolution; but in the higher states the lesson to be learned is that all such action is in error, for the time has come for the knight to transcend the polarity of Right and Wrong. In the case of Sir Bors the lesson, despite the glosses, remains very clear:

p222-3 He, takes the side of the young lady of the tower against the old lady whose champion is Pridam le Noire This appears a good and generous action. And in performing it he keeps to his diet of bread and water and sleeps on the floor; which is to say, he participates in the world of manifestation without committing himself to it.

But he dreams a warning dream: “..there came to him two birds, the one as white as a swan, and the other was marvellous black; but it was not so great as the other, but in the likeness of a raven.” Each woos him, the swan promising all the riches of the world, the raven claiming that he would do well to realize that “more availeth my blackness than the other’s whiteness.” Both the Swan and the Raven were important symbols in Celtic myth; the one of ‘God’ seen through the world, the other of Godseen through dying to the world. Both are therefore to be honoured, not one against the other. The monkish gloss is particularly confused at this point, for it favours the young woman against the old woman, but, evidently failing to see the relationship between the old woman and the raven, favours the raven over the swan; and justifies favouring black over white by saying that the swan is ‘black within’.

In any event, Bors ignores the warning not understanding it. Equally he fails. to. understand the meaning of his second dream, which is a more general statement of the nature of the world, and a guide as to how it may be transcended:

“he came to a great place which seemed a chapel, and there he found a chair set on the left side, which was worm-eaten and feeble. And on the right hand were two flowers like a lily, and…a good man departed them that the one touched not the other; and then out of every flower came out many flowers, and fruit great plenty.” (even the dream itself is glossed, but this is its simple and radiant core.) The Queste of the Sainte Graal, from which Malory drew his version, states this dream with greater clarity. The rotten ‘chair’ to the left is a rotten tree (which is indeed how it is referred to later in Malory by an interpreting ‘good man’) and between the tree and the flowers sits a holy man in a chair who is holding the flowers apart. This is, of course, more exact symbolically; but the Malory version has the truer ‘feeling’, which is so not only here, but throughout. For although Malory follows his source very closely, the differences are two and important. Firstly, the didactic, glossing passages are much shorter, and feel much more part of the fabric of the legend and landscape; and secondly, the landscape itself in Malory, so like a dream that the visions are but natural intensifications of the ‘feel’ of the whole world, is much more straightforward and factual in his source.

As to the particular dream quoted above the importance of the Malory version is that the Way between the parted lilies of birth and growth (flowers shaped like horns, and behaving like horns of plenty when parted; symbols of creative polarity like all pairs of horns, which was one reason why horned animals were anciently sacred, and why the god’ or evolved man who contained this polarity was depicted as horned…in Celtic imagery, of seven tines….and why the unicorn, having but one horn, was a fabulous beast by definition, for where there is but one horn there is no polarity and hence no manifest world. Except within the unicorn.) and the rotting tree of earthly decline and death leads not to the anthropomorphic god-figure on a throne, but to the altar which is a threshold of the void.

Sir Bors, failing to see that the Way lies between to right hand of creation and the left hand of destruction, chooses the right hand and is supported in this by the ‘good men’, as representatives of polarized Christianity. But even as his conscious mind remains within the rules of polarity, his unconscious, which has brought him the truth from the void in images, is slowly infusing his spirit with this truth. At a conscious level all he need do, despite his mistaken action, is to maintain his purity of motive. So that at last he may pass beyond not only Action but the ‘good men’ who would forever bind him there as they themselves are bound. To this extent the ‘good men’ and their guidance, for it is guidance to be transcended, are an integral part of the teaching of the Quest for the Holy Grail.

p.224-6 Sir Bors is asked to take sides again, but now it is no longer an easy choice; for it lies between succouring his brother Sir Lionel, who is being beaten to death, and a maiden who is about to be ravished. He does choose again, between what may be seen indeed as projections of two aspects of himself, for in entering upon the world of action he begins to tear himself apart, and so sinks deeper into the toils of ‘Maya’. In choosing the maiden, which appears at first to entail the death of his brother, he is upbraided by a ‘good man’ who turns out to be a false ‘good man’: and indeed, in choosing the maiden he chose that aspect of himself which dwells within his purity. And so his decision is, since he has entered upon the field of action, ‘correct’; but if he had not entered upon it there would have been no need to do violence to his brother, his outer self, for his inner and outer self would have been in harmony.

He is assured by the maiden that he chose rightly, “else five hundred men should have died.”

p.225-6 “then twelve knights came seeking after her.. and besought him to come to her father, a great lord, and he should be right welcome.”

But he does not follow her back into the world, where she would give him everything…as symbolized in the twelve knights, or months, at her command…but leaves her still a maiden, and remains himself in the ‘fairy’ land, the half-way land, trying still to maintain his quest for the Grail without abandoning his power of choice.

p.227-9 He is taken by the apparent man of God to a castle where he has yet a more difficult decision. If he will not love the lady of the castle she will kill herself. And further, that Lancelot too will die. (Since she is the symbol of the world, Lancelot her lover will die at her death.) Sir Bors is much weakened by all that he has passed through; he has been much drawn out of himself. And so, at the banquet, he partakes of all the ‘dainties’, forgetting his bread-and-water vow.

But he holds to his chastity. Which is to say he maintains the circle of his consciousness aloof from the world And so “(the lady) departed and went up into an high battlement and led with her twelve gentlewomen.” For if he abandons the world, the world, as symbolized in the lady (seen as the queen of the year with her twelve months…time and space being equal measures of creation within the 360 degrees of the circle) who is the natural result of his succouring her in the forest as a maiden, the world must, of course, cease to exist.

And then Sir Bors, having implacably endured their death: “lever he had that they had all lost their souls than he his.”…though in sorrow, discovers the castle and all in it to be but illusion (of the devil, since the colouring is Christian), a magic-lantern life.

p.230 And yet his trials are not done. The ‘good abbot’ interpreting his dreams and actions, blackens his brother Lionel in order to make them have some meaning within polarized Christianity, but the truth, and meaning of the trials, is otherwise. Lionel is ‘black’ only in so far as Bors is white’; which is to say that Lionel is that aspect of’ himself which he has not integrated into his Quest, and which has therefore come to stand against him as his own greatest enemy, and with which at last he must come to terms.

p.231 “..he found there Sir Lionel, his brother, which sat all armed at the entry of the chapel door.” Bors, seeing him, is overjoyed and seeks reconciliation. But this has become impossible. For although he always acted for the best he has come face to face with the fact that to act at all provokes re-action, just as light produces dark, and he has produced Lionel, who is now come between him and the symbolic chapel door.. so his choice of action now is to kill his brother or to cause his brother to kill him; which is to say, whichever way he turns is death. For death is the result of action, as the rotting tree is the result of the pair of parted lilies.

p.234 At last, when the two would-be mediators are dead, men of good will who are powerless in the highly-charged atmosphere which Bors has created, and so bring. about their own death through the presumption of their intervention, Sir Bors “that was full of humility prayed Sir Lionel for God’s love to leave this battle: for an it befell, fair brother that I slew you or ye me, we should be dead of that sin.” But Lionel will not. “Then drew Bors his sword, all weeping, and said: Fair brother, God knoweth mine intent…And well wot ye that I am not afeared of you greatly, but I dread the wrath of God, and this is an unkindly war, therefore God show miracle upon us both.” In such extremis a man may no longer help himself; he is a victim of circumstance, which is to say of past action. All then that may save him is the Divine Grace bursting through worldly laws and forms like a thunderbolt of illumination; which occurs if the man, like Bors, feeling himself pushed ineluctably against the unyielding wall of circumstance, yet holds to his faith that the wall in some higher sense is not there. And it is not.

p.234-5 “Alit a cloud between them in likeness of a fire and a marvellous flame, that both their two shields burnt.” As if, indeed, electricity shot between them, cancelling their polarity. Unlike Perceval, Bors does not invoke the miracle; that is, he does not, like Perceval, recollect himself. Rather, he is saved by his own pure nature irrupting into his conscious mind and bursting the illusive barriers which his mind had made and which had held him in thrall.

So he and his brother “fell both to the earth, and lay there a great while in a swoon.” And are reconciled to each other, and part in mutual forgiveness and love, for a voice said; “Bors, go hence, and bear thy brother no longer fellowship, but take thy way anon right to the sea.” For his trials are over.

p.235 “Sir Bors by fortune…came to an abbey which was nigh the sea. That night Bors rested him there; and in his sleep a voice came to him there and bad him go to the sea. Then he started up and made a sign of the cross in the middes of his forehead…and at a broken wall he rode out and rode so long that he came to the sea.”

Thus he passes, through the precincts of the church, out of the walls of the manifest world; making his last preparation by the sign of the cross, in token of his understanding and hold­ing within him the primal creation; making his way out not through any door or gate of the Church’s making, but through ‘a broken wall’, which has been of his own making.

p.235 “And on the strand he found a ship covered all with white samite, and he alit…and as soon as he entered into the ship the ship departed into the sea.”

Leaving his horse on the strand, in token of his parting from the outer world. Perceval is already within the ship, lying still, armed but unhelmeted. Bors now takes off his helmet and is recognized.

“And either made great joy of other”, recognizing each the true face of the other once its worldly mask had been removed. “So they went downward in the sea, one while backward another while forward.” For Action now, on the Ocean where creation is reduced to essentials, is reduced to the merest movements and counter movements, a simple going out and coming back.

“And every each comforted other, and oft were in their prayers.” By both means seeking to reduce polarity to its very least. “Then said Sir Percevale: we lack nothing but Galahad, the good knight.” Which is to say the supraordinate third in which the remaining pulse of polarity will be reduced to pure radiance. Which state of three-in-one is the state of the questing soul, the twice-born soul, in his higher adventures towards the achieving of the Holy Grail. Where the three dissolves in the One.

Book XVII p.236 The adventures of Sir Galahad. “..he found many adventures the which he brought to an end.. Then he took his way to the sea.”

And came upon a tournament outside a castle, and took the side of those losing, and enabled them to win. But there is no question of one side being good and the other evil, for the knights of the side he takes were “good knights enough”; and on the other side fight Gawain and Ector de Mans, equally good knights enough”. The purpose of Galahad’s participation is rather that he involve himself in the world, for the exper­ience of’ it, before ‘going to the Sea’; but always with the Sea at the centre of his consciousness, so that he is aware that the clashing opposites are opposites only as in chess: mirror images of each other. Hence his involvement is physical but not emotional. He strikes down Gawain (in fulfilment of the prediction of Lancelot…see p.166 above) not even knowing who he is, acting indeed throughout without personality or self; but wielding with great vigour and strength the sword of the Logos, the symbol of the dividing power which creates. And in token of’ his remaining always beyond divided creation, when the battle is over he disappears, so that none wist where he was become.”

p.237 “till that she (and Galahad) came to the sea, the which was called Collibe.”

This appears to be something of a mistranslation, for the Queste of the Saint Graal reads: “They were still riding when dawn began to break, and the sky was fully light when they entered a forest known as the forest of Celibe which stretched as far as the sea.” That is to say, they have reached the penumbra of the Sea; but it must be reached by passing through the Maiden’s castle, which is to say, Galahad accompanies the World as she withdraws from her fullness as mother and queen into the strict castle of maidenhood, of potential, “closed with a running water.” It is comparable to Caer Sidi, the revolving castle at the axis of the world, to which Celtic heroes had always, in symbol, to journey. Interestingly, there is no question of Galahad being guided by the church, nor of entering upon the Ocean from a church. He is guided solely by the maiden, the world withdrawn into itself.

In her castle “he ate and slept a while till that the maid called him, and armed him by torchlight.” Then they ride out together into the night, unto the sea; and leave their horses on the shore and board the ship where Perceval and Bors are already. “And so the wind arose, and drove them through the sea in a marvellous pace. And within a while it dawned.”

Thus Galahad has passed through a form of death to reach the Shining Sea, but he has so entirely surrendered himself that death and darkness are quite without terror for him. Indeed, he has not withdrawn from the world, which implies continuing polarity, but with the world, with the world’s own withdrawing; for he has totally trusted in the guidance of the Maiden, and is at one with her will. So that, as he says to the other knights:

“Had not the gentlewoman been, I had not come here.” (Malory) “So it can be said that my coming was more her doing than my own.” (Quest of the Saint Graal)

p.238 “By then the ship went from the land of Logris, and by adventure it arrived up betwixt two rocks passing great and marvellous. But there they might not land, for there was a swallow of the sea, save there was another ship, and upon it they might go without danger.”

So they pass between the pillars of Hercules (in other myths symbolised as clashing rocks) which mark the extreme limits of the known, polarised world, beyond which is only a whirl-pool. And perpetually balanced on its rim, a ship; which is to say, the church; which is to say, any system of symbols which enables the questing soul to evolve towards the unknown, the whirlpool. And there they ‘might go without danger.’ And yet not everyman might, for although it is a ship of forms, they are primal forms, symbols of primal patterns, too highly charged for a man unprepared to bear.

p239 “And in the middes of the ship was a fair bed, and Galahad went thereto, and found there a crown of silk.” (‘of gold.. Queste). “And at the feet was a sword, rich and fair, and it was drawn out of the sheath half a foot and more.”

Here the symbols become so many and so dense with meaning that nearly every sentence needs glossing; and still they elude linear explanation, slipping past the mind into the soul. The bed, which recalls the passage in the (Gnostic) Acts of John: “In your drive towards wisdom you have me for a bed: rest upon me.” (condemned by the Church at the Council of Nicaea), appears to be comparable to the World Tree, hanging from which the hero, in the name of Odin, falls asleep to the manifest world and lives in the Whole. In so doing, he rests between the golden crown and the sword; which is to say, between gold…the symbol, as in alchemy, of wholeness beyond differentiation…and the sword, the Logos, the symbol of division and therefore of division, of birth and death. Which sword is partly drawn from its scabbard because, presumably, if it were not, even the ship perched on the rim of the whirlpool would not be manifest nor the whirlpool itself; for symbols too at last are but things.

The hero therefore, crowned like king, is the archetype, like the sacred king who must balance ever between the world of One and the world of Many, reconciling and containing all in himself.

First the sword is examined.

p.239 “the pommel was of stone, and there was in him all manner of colours that any man might find.” Which is to say it represents, like the rainbow, wholeness in diversity.

“the scales of the haft were of two ribs of divers beasts..” One from a serpent found in Caledonia. “and the bone of him is such that there is no hand that handleth him that shall never be weary nor hurt.” (Queste: “and if a man has hold of one of his ribs it renders him insensible to heat.”) Which seems to say that the wielder of the sword, however much he may take part in the action of the manifest world, will himself not be involved in the consequences of Action. The bones of the other ‘beast’ forming the heft of the sword carry this claim to its logical conclusion:

“Who that handleth (this bone) shall have so much will that he shall never be weary, and he shall not think on joy nor sorrow that he hath had, but only that thing that he holdeth before him” (Queste: “Directly he puts it down again he starts to think once more as he was wont, after the fashion of a normal man.”) This is an exact description of the state of mind to which Zen training was able to bring the Samurai; that is, the state of pure perception where the warrior lives only in the moment, for if he thinks of past and future, or even what he is at that moment doing, he will be overtaken by the event and lost. Thus the knight grasping the heft is balanced between the Whole in manifestation (the pommel) and the Many in manifestation (the blade). The heft, therefore, by definition is not to be grasped by any except him who can sustain this position.

“As for this sword there shall never man begrip him at the handles but one, but he shall pass all other.” Since the sword is but a symbol of the spiritual state of the wielder. When a man is able to encompass time and space, therefore being the point of time and space which is ever living, then will the sword be within his grasp, for all size and shape will be contained in him. Of this spiritual state Galahad is the symbol.

p.240-43 The maiden relates three varying histories of the ship being boarded in times past, and of the drawing of the sword, and of the wounding which followed. Each is a way of saying how the world in duality has fallen into two uncomunicating parts; each, also, seems partly corrupt through transmission through many hands and years. But their purport is still clear enough.

p.240 The story of King Labor and King Hurlame. “This ship (said the maiden) arrived in the realm of Logris; and that time was deadly war between King Labor, which was father unto the maimed king, and King Hurlame, which was a Saracen. But then was he newly christened, so that men beheld him afterward one of the wyttyest men of the world.” This whole episode is extremely complex. Firstly, the names of the two kings are given in the Queste as Lambar (Labor) and Varlan (Hurlame), which appear to be but anagrams of each other; which suggests that they are, like Balin-Balan, the two halves of the same soul. Or, in terms of the symbolic world, the king and tanist who fight in order that the world may be ever in balanced flux. That Hurlame-Varlan has been baptized and is hence one of the ‘wyttyest’ or wisest of men is evidently a way of saying that although he expressed the ‘dark’ side of life, he was not therefore to be despised and denied. (The Queste also gives the name Pelles as ‘Parlan’; which suggests that whatever the names, or Name, mean, they must consist of two syllables: ‘var-bar-par’ and ‘lan-lam’.)

The arrival of the ship at the shores of Logris in the midst of this everlasting battle suggests that some intimation had come of a means of transcending the battle. But that its nature was misunderstood. For:

“It befel that King Labor (Lambar) and King Hurlame (Varlan) had assembled their folk upon the sea where this ship was arrived; and there King Hurlame was discomfit and his men slain; and he was afeared to be dead, and fled to his ship, and there found this sword and drew it, and came out and found King Labor…and smote him upon the helm so hard that he clave him and his horse to the earth with the first stroke of his sword. And it was in the realm of Logris; and so befel great pestilence…wherefore men call it.. .the waste land, for that dolorous stroke”

In one sense this reads almost as an allegory of the persecution and rise of the Christian Church from a Gnostic point of view:. Hurlame, denoting that aspect of man which seeks withdrawal from the world as his ‘salvation’, is nearly overpowered by Labor, who like the lion, represents the world in all its glory. To defend himself, Hurlame seizes the sword without knowing its nature, and strikes down his opposite king not realizing that he is not only opposite but complementary. Just so had the early Church, fearing for its very life, narrowed that life into a weapon for striking down all that it chose to see as ‘profane’. And so ‘spirit’ and ‘body’ are seen as separate; and ‘God’ and ‘Man’ are seen as separate; and so the World, the circumference of the Circle, is cut off from its centre, and is Waste.

Hurlame, in fact, cannot in a true sense grasp the sword at all; what he has grasped is but a simulacrum. For he is but half of the whole; and the wound he has caused will bleed either until it is healed by a spirit able to encompass the Whole, or until the world era ends. In fact, both happen. For Galahad is the high spirit and he represents, as indicated by the writing on the Siege Perilous (p.165 above), the dawn of a new age, where opposites will be reconciled and transcended.

The sword, in fact, is like the mind of the Buddha, who, as he neared his Enlightenment, caused the world to tip this way and that by the least flicker of his mind from perfect balance. Similarly, the Sword maynt be wielded by any but the Perfect Knight without causing maiming and death, because a man of imperfect nature is an unbalanced man who, if given such power, will unbalance the world.

Therefore: “when King Hurlame put up the sword in the sheath… he fell down dead afore the bed… So lay he there until a maiden came into the ship and cast him out.”

This is very elliptically said. Without his opposite, King Hurlame himself cannot long live. Upon his death, the world is left outwards in the person of the maimed king. Left desolate, with only a dry pretence of spirit. And the true spirit of the world draws within, into the symbol of the maiden, into potentiality from manifestation. The sword is sheathed, the ship sails from the shores of Logres, (where one might say it had been openly manifest) back beyond the pillars of Hercules to the very edge of the whirlpool which spins out, or in, to the Unmanifest; and waits.

It is in effect the same Maiden, the world in potential, who guides Galahad now out to the sword so that he may bring it into the world again and so re-unite the Centre to the circum­ference. So he must return once more into the world.

p.241 The second story, of Nacien; which has in extreme that quality present throughout the Quest of being both resonant of truth and nearly inaccessible to rational explanation. The story begins with the scabbard, which is of snakeskin, and is over-written with warnings; one of which: “He that shall praise me most, most shall he find me to blame at great need; and to whom I should be most debonair, shall I be most felon, and that at one time.” is illustrated by the maiden in her story of Nacien. Which appears to be another story of the world in polarity, for Nacien comes to the ship beside one great rock, near an island “clepyd the isle of Turnance” (which is to say, the turning island; a symbol comparable to the whirl­pool, and so used in the Queste); and then “departed him out of the isle, and brought him to another isle by a rock.” And there, because he has not realized that the two rocks are essen­tially one rock, “he found the greatest giant that ever man might see.” Which giant is ‘horrible’ and has to be fought.

What follows is rather obscure: he praises the sword and it breaks in his hand. (In the Queste, it snaps when he flourishes it round his head in a circle. Which would seem to suggest that the straight line of division is reabsorbed back into the un­manifest upon turning round upon itself…like the serpent eating its own tail. The I and the 0 are united; which are the two primary letters in the old Celtic alphabet…gifts of the sun; and which correspond visually to the lingam and yoni, the union of which is symbolic of the transcendence of polarity.) Nacien slays the giant anyway; which may be part of a series of misunderstandings, for if the sword of differentiation is broken, the giant would cease to exist. It would be exactly as though Nacien had destroyed him by making the sign of the cross. And, in fact, the lingam-yoni sign observed from the side is identical with the sign of the cross.

Nacien then is driven away over the ocean, and encounters King Mordrains “which had been tempted full evil with the fiend in the port of perilous rock”. So it appears that his adventure has been like that of Nacien: half of the whole. For Nacien is usually referred to as the hermit, the one who withdraws from the world. Of which the symbol is the breaking of the sword. But Mordrains is a king, the complement in the world of Nacien; and so he mends the sword. Then, together, the halves of a whole, they leave it sheathed in the ship.

Nacien’s wounding, which is minor and heals, appears to be the result of his abandoning the way of the hermit, which is suitable to him, and taking on that of the king. Conversely, King Mordrain’s blindness (p.261 below, and p.195 above, as ‘King Evelake’) is a result of his presumption in attempting to en­compass the role of the ‘holy man’ as well as his own.

p.242 The third story. “There was a king that hight Pelles. Upon a day he hunted in a wood of his which lasted unto the sea; and at the last he lost his hounds and his knights save only one: and there he and his knight went till that they came toward Ireland, and there he found the ship…and (within it) this sword, and he drew it out as much as ye may see. So therewith entered a spear wherewith he was smitten through both the thighs, and never sith might he be healed, nor nought shall tofore we come to him.”

In riding through the “wood that lasted unto the sea”, King Pelles is making his way through the uncharted land of the spirit. He is able to reach the “sea”, and even to board the ship, because he was “right perfect of his life”, but in his attempt to draw the sword he overreaches himself. As did King Mordrains, and Nacien; and King Hurlame: each of them ‘halves’ attempting to encompass the Whole. And so, like Gawain in other versions of the Quest, each for his presumption is spiritually immobilized.

As to the ‘Maimed King’ particularly, symbolized here by King Pelles, he is of course. central to the Quest. Under whatever variation of the name, and by what manner he has come to this state (for the explanations are many; and all symbolically true), the state itself is the same: he is wounded through the thighs (sometimes one thigh, sometimes, as here, two) and the wound will not heal. He is immobilized in his castle, and the land is therefore ‘enchanted’ or ‘waste’.

This is the ‘negative’ centre of the Quest: that the Maimed King be healed. And although recounted separately from the ‘positive’ centre, the achieving of the Grail, the two of course are one. The piercing through the thighs has been variously understood. Of recent years the consensus appears to be that it symbolizes castration. Which it does; but in a spiritual sense: it symbol­izes a short-circuiting of the spiritual current flowing back and forth between the realm of the one and the realm or the many. Of this flow the clearest diagram is that of two equal intersecting circles, the circumference of each passing through the centre of the other.


The shape in the centre is called the vesica piscis, and is evidently the ultimate source of the name “The Fisher King” (not greatly mentioned in Malory, but frequent and evocative throughout the Cycle generally). For he is the symbol, in health, of the two worlds simul­taneously one. The Maimed King is the maimed Fisher King, through whom the currents no longer flow freely.

Of which his wounding is both a symbol and, seen in diagram, an explanation. For the diagram is: ++. Which seems to indicate a neutralizing of polarity, of electric flow. The proper re­lationship between two vertical lines if one is to have elec­trical action is: I\I or I/I. Which is the manner of decoration on old Celtic torcs and which, further, is a visual represent­ation of the three rays of light which form the three primal letters of the Celtic alphabet: I, 0, V. Turned on their side, the diagrams I\I and I/I become Z and S, which are symbols of electricity; Z being its form in the popular mind, the symbol of the thunderbolt; and also the letter of death (straith’ the blackthorn, according to Graves’ White Goddess).

Whereas S, representing the spiral, is, accor­ding to science, nearer the ‘trueshape of lightning; and is the letter of ‘Saile’, the willow, the tree of the waxing and waning moon, of life and death and life again.

So, in the diagram ++ all this ceases. That is experienced then is not the balance in the midst of flow, but a ceasing of flow: the world within and the world without no longer enrich each other, and therefore both are waste.

And this came about, all the varied tales of explanation agree, because a king’, or other archetypal figure, attempted to assume a role for which he was spiritually unfitted, which he didn’t properly comprehend, which was therefore not within him but without. And so the heir to the Fisher King, in whom both worlds are alive and radiant, is but a simulacrum.

And yet, in another sense, (for the resonance of the Quest is inexhaustible) King Pelles, as the Grail Keeper of the seventh degree, is only fulfilling his role His attempt to draw out the sword and his subsequent immobilization are functions of his position in the numerical sequence; for at seven, the num­ber of achievement, he partially draws the sword and is then caught between heaven and earth, unable to move, which is the state of number eight. Just so did Odin, piercing himself through his thighs, immobilize himself on the World Tree…to increase his wisdom. His difficulty and pain then are identical with that of the Maimed King: how to restore the eternal flow without falling back into experience of only one half of it. For he is at the point of the ultimate opposites, of the Nothing against the All. The symbol of Odin’s transcendence of these is his effort of extreme pain in gathering runes which he sees at the foot of the world tree; which is to say, primal shapes or patterns which enable one to experience the Manifest and Unmanifest at once. And so he falls free of the Tree, and his state of wholeness is represented by the number nine. He has returned, and the universe flows through him.

In the quest, the chief difference is simply that the Maimed Grail King and Galahad are pictured as different people, as seventh and ninth in the same line. The ‘healing’ of the Maimed King, therefore, consists in ‘his’ (or Galahad’s) living both in the ‘Grail’ and in the world. And this is why four knights succeed in some manner in achieving the Quest, for it is as the quaternity, of which they are the symbol, that the questing soul may achieve the Grail and return. Which the diagram of the vesica pisces exemplifies, for within the shape of the fish, touching both circles at their centres and where they intersect, is the rhombus:

p.243 “So they went toward the bed to behold all about it..” The description in the Queste is substantially the same as in Malory, but is clearer as to detail, so I shall quote it and follow it: “(They) saw that it was made from timber hewn from the living tree. In the centre of the side that faced them there was a post let into the wooden beam that extended the length of the bed, in such a way that it was perpendicular to the frame. And in the far side in the other truss there was another post, exactly opposite the first. These posts were separated by the width of the bed, and on them lay a slender cross-piece, squared and bolted to the two uprights. The post on the nearer side was whiter than fallen snow; while the fur­ther one was red as drops of bright red blood; and the one which joined them overhead was bright emerald green;.. these were natural colours, not painted on, for they owed naught to any human hand.”

The white and red (opposites too in chess) are bound together; above, by the living green. (which enables the flow from one to the other. As an illustration of what happens when red and white touch each other, Perceval, in one version of the Quest, is cast into a trance…at seeing fresh blood on fresh snow…and while in it performs knightly deeds, unknowing that he even moves. So that he is momentarily in that state of ‘All-in-One’, of which ‘living in the Grail’ is the steady symbol. He is said while gazing at the snow to be thinking of his beloved; which is to say the world, the green which keeps the red and white apart; if he had not, he would not have been merely ‘entranced’; he would have ceased to exist.)

The shape of the structure over the bed is that of a dolmen; which too is a symbol of inception-continuance-decay, represent­ing the consonants on an implicit ground of vowels (cf. Graves­- The White Goddess pp245.), the symbols of the potential out of which all forms rise. So this dolmen rises over the ocean, over the bed on the ocean, where the hero is to lie asleep. It is therefore a symbol, as the dolmens are, and as is the Hebrew letter ‘than’ or ‘T’’, of the World Tree. (From a branch of the Tree of Knowledge, as the maiden explains in Malory, taken by Eve out of Eden).

“T” in the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to the Tarot card XXII, the hermaphroditic dancing figure ‘World’ or ‘Cosmos’; and from this letter the ‘Hanged Man’, in Tarot card XII, is suspended in trance. His head is in a golden halo (cf. the golden crown at the head of the bed), his legs are crossed, as the sword at the foot of the bed is a cross, symbolizing the interaction of opposites; thus he is suspended between the two, between the red of his legs and the white of his hair, suspended by the green World Tree. (It will be noticed that the values of the symbols, as of numbers and colours, are ever changing, ever elusive; which is a measure of their resonance and their necessity. For no clear statement can stand for long.)

p.241 “The girdle was but poorly come to, and not able to sustain such a rich sword.”

p245. “And (King Solomon saw) the girdles were of hemp, and therewith the king was angry. Sir, wit ye well, said his wife, that I have none so high a thing which were worthy to sustain so high a sword, and a maid shall bring other knights thereto, but I wot not when it shall be.”

p246 “(The maiden) opened a box, and took out girdles which were seemly wrought with golden threads, and upon that were set full precious stones, and a rich buckle of gold. Lo, lords said she, here is a girdle that ought to be set about the sword. And wit ye well the greatest part of this girdle was made of my hair, which I loved well while I was a woman of the world. But as soon as I wist that this adventure was ordained me I clipped off my hair, and made this girdle in the name of God.”

The meaning of this appears to be that the sword may not be taken from the world of patterns to the world of manifestation except with the will of the world itself. The Maiden was a Woman, and as such the symbol of the growing and dying world; but in accord with the need of the universe that Galahad find his way within, she sheared off her hair, in token, like that of a monk or nun, that she withdrew from the earthly round of birth and death; and then, as the Maiden, the world in potential, having brought Galahad within, to the sword of the Logos, she girt it upon him with the girdle made of her own hair. Which is equivalent to the Virgin Mary saying: “Be it unto me accord­ing to thy word.” Which is to say that in order for the re­deemer to be born in the world…or to manifest in the world as the Logos or sword…the world must be willing.

The act of knighting, the accolade…which was originally, as the name suggests, an embracing round the neck of the knighted by the knighter…is here performed by the arms of the maiden as she “girt him about the middle with the sword.” And the figure which at that moment they make together is the figure of the lingam-yoni; which is to say, the Holy Marriage.

p.246-7 “Now (she said) reck I not though I die, for now I hold me one of the blessed maidens of the world, which hath made the worthiest knight in the world. Damosel, said Galahad, ye have done so much that I shall be your knight all the days of my life.”

And soon she does die (see below, p.250-52), in what is in effect a transformation from Maiden to Queen of the World; but her spirit, the world-in-potential, rests in Galahad, as he says, always.

p.247 “Then went they from that ship, and went to the other. And anon the sea drove them into the sea at a great pace, but they had no victuals; but it befell that they came on the morn to a castle that men call Carteloise, that was in the marches of Scotland.”

The moment they leave the ship at the World-axis, wind, the breath of life, rises and blows them into the world of becoming. They become aware that they require food and have none. (As did the warriors with the head of Bendigeidfran when, after timeless joy in the castle at Owales, one of them opened the door to the south. (Mabinogion: Branwen, daughter of Llyr)).

Their return to the world of becoming is abrupt. Carteloise, ‘in the marches’ is conceived as far removed from Camelot, and therefore as being without any intimation of the spirit. Locked within its sense of its own existence, it is like the ego locked in itself. Naturally, feeling itself threatened, it fights the Light which comes suddenly upon it in the figures of the three holy knights and the maiden.

“And therewith.. Sir Percevale smote the foremost to the earth, and took his horse, and mounted thereupon, and the same did Galahad. Also Bors…, for they had no horses in that country.” Thus they reassume bodies for the world, and clash with their opposites…who, as three brothers forcing their will on their sister, are symbolic of the self-willed opposed to the will of ‘God’…, and easily overcome, being ‘twice-born’; so easily indeed that they are astonished, as though one part of them accepted the world as ‘real’, where opposition was always dif­ficult and painful, while the core of them, filled with the sense of the spirit moving on the waters, knows that all is illusion and so destroys it like a mirage. For, as ‘twice born’ knights they are in both the world of Becoming and the world of Being; but the two are as yet unfused, which is why these further trials are necessary, and why, in the castle of Carbonek Galahad sees the Grail but partially. For he has not yet slept on the bed on the ship on the Ocean.

“Then when they beheld the great multitude of people they had slain, they held themselves great sinners.”

And sinners they are (though. the monks may deny it) in the sense that they are disruptive of the harmony. For what has happened in fact is that White has clashed immediately with Red; which is a short-circuiting of the universal current. White must meet Red through Green, as they have been told, symbolically, by the World Tree over the bed; and this, full as they are now of the sense of the world of the spirit, they are unwilling to accept. In this they are, for the moment, in tune with the teachings of the orthodox Church. But the Maiden is to teach them better.

p.250 “So there a knight armed came after them….and said: By the Holy Cross, ye shall not escape me tofore ye have yolden the custom of this castle….(which is) what maid passeth hereby shall give this dish full of blood of her right arm.”

Although in the forest where they. have just been they have been shown a vision symbolic of Christ coming into the world through the womb of the Virgin Mary (like light through the rose window which allows it to pass and is unchanged, into the body of the church) the knights are unable to see that the passing of the maiden’s blood into the body of’ the sick lady of the castle is but another symbol of the Spirit passing from the world of potential to the world of full manifestation; and that nothing in passing is ever lost. But they are still bound in their ‘conception’ of the inner world, of whom the maiden is now their only external symbol; and they fear to lose her. (This is another aspect of their clash with the knights of Corteloise: their holding to their conception of the world of the spirit within so polarized them that they themselves ‘created’ or projected their opposites: the knights holding tightly to the ‘world’ without.)

Balin, by contrast, when in the course of his adventures he is similarly stopped and the maiden with him asked to give her blood (vol.1, p.62), is quite willing; and the blood doing the lady no good, the maid remains healthy.

So that here it seems that the knights in their hearts know that the maiden’s blood will heal the lady of the castle, and that their resistance therefore is the resistance of Innocence to taking part in the world. But it must take part to gain the experience which leads to Wholeness.

So they fight and they destroy. Until at last the maiden, against their will…”Certes, said Galahad, an ye bleed so much ye may die”…declares that “I shall yield you your custom of this castle.” And gives her blood from her right arm (right being the side of the creation of forms) and dies, and “the same day was the lady healed.” Which is to say, the Empress (of the Tarot) succeeds to the High Priestess, the nymph succeeds to the virgin, and the world of bare opposites becomes the laby­rinthine green world of inextricably entangled good and evil, life and death, joy and pain.

This is the first healing, a necessary prelude to the healing of the Maimed King.

But the three knights, so sorrowing at the loss of the Maiden, their Innocence, see only darkness and death in the new world. But only half the castle was turned ‘up so down’, and the castle itself, in which the world of forms was locked away, is broken open, and behind it lay a garden,”(or ‘churchyard’; this whole passage is so heavily glossed by world-denying monks that its original sense has been deeply buried) “so fair and so delectable that it seemed them there had been none tempest.” And there buried were sixty maidens, “and all were of king’s blood, and twelve of them were kings’ daughters.” Which sixty and twelve are the numbers of time, of minutes and of months, which have descended from the world of patterns to give birth to the world of forms.

There is no understanding of this event in the minds of the knights, for the mode of the Quest throughout is not to persuade the mind, but to reach the soul; for which purpose the experience of adventures is sufficient, however strange and meaningless they may appear to the mind, for they slowly ripen in the willing soul.

Chapter XIII p.254 “when Lancelot was come to the water of Mortoise, as it is rehearsed before, he was in great peril and so he laid him down and slept, and took the adventure that God would send him.(see p.213 above) His surrender of himself at finding that he is inescapably bound in by the three dimensions of the external world has allowed him to pass beyond them; so that now he woke and “saw great clereness about him”. And he is able to pass into the ship, miraculously appearing, wherein he feels surpassing joy.

“And when he awoke, he found there a fair bed, and therein lying a gentlewoman dead..” Which would appear to symbolize the world withdrawn to its potential, so that it can be seen, through veils, as whole. But it is a cold experience, his “month and more” with her for she is dead. So that at last he was ‘somewhat weary of the ship.’

He is not, that is to say, so evolved in spirit that he can receive openly of the radiance of the Ocean which it is in the power of the ‘ship’ to give. He can experience it only through another. And the other’ comes in the person of Galahad. ” And there was great joy between them, for there is no tongue can tell the joy that they made either of other..”

For each has to learn of the other: Lancelot of the radiance within, Galahad of the richness of the world without; for they are opposite aspect of one soul.

p255 “So dwelt Lancelot and Galahad within that ship half a year…and often they arrived in isles…where there repaired none but wild beasts.”

Where they experience the world in its elemental form, acting as its natural laws require, beyond conceptions of right and wrong, partaking of the pure perceptual world of the beast.

“So after, on a Monday, it befell that they arrived in the edge of a forest tofore a crosse.”

On a Monday, because it initiates a new week, a new cycle, for every week the world is newly created, they come to the forest which is the tangled world, and a white horse and his Way are waiting for Galahad, who is now full of experience of the world, and he must depart. At the symbol of the cross, standing between the Ocean and the created world.

“And the wind rose, and drove Lancelot more than a month through out the sea..(and) it befell on a night, at midnight, he arrived afore a castle, on the back side, which was rich and fair, and there was a postern opened toward the sea, and was open without any keeping, save two lions kept the entry; and the moon shone clear.”

This part of the Quest, relating Lancelot’s near vision of the Grail is unusually clear in its imagery, for the claims of the Quest here are not at great variance with those of orthodox teaching. Approaching from the Sea, he naturally finds the castle wide open, for it is to the Outer World that it is closed. Insofar as he approaches as an undifferentiated soul, there is no let to his entry; but when he acts as ‘Lancelot’ in drawing his sword against the lions, the sword is smitten from his hand by ‘a dwarf’. Which would suggest that, powerful as Lancelot is in the world, the least man in the Grail castle can subdue him.

Recalled to his true self, that is keeping bright within him the sense of the Divine which he has learned on the Ocean, he passes the lions freely and enters the castle “for he found no gate nor door but it was 0pen.”

Except the door to the Grail Chamber itself.

p.257 “Then he enforced him mickle to undo the door.”

Which avails him nothing, though he be the ‘knight of most worship in the world’

And so he surrenders himself in humility and longing, and the door is open “and there came out a great clearness, that the house was as bright as all the torches of the world had been there.”

But this is the extreme of what is allowed him: to be present, without, while the Grail is served within.

“And it seemed to Lancelot that above the priest’s hands were three men, whereof the two put the youngest by likeness between the priest’s hands..” And to these three, Lancelot adds a fourth, creating the quaternity of wholeness, linking the centre of the circle of Being (Galahad), through the two intersecting points of that circle with the circle of Becoming (Percevale and Bors) to the centre of the circle of Becoming (cf. Notes, p.50, above: diagram).

But then “him thought the priest was so greatly charged of the figure that him seemed that he should fall to the earth.” And so, ‘Lancelot’, his idea of himself, rises up in him; and not content at being part of the holy quaternity, he con­ceives a reason for pushing his single self forward: a ‘good, helpful’ action; and the delicate balance is shattered, and he is thrown into a swoon, and his mind and his body live in worlds apart.

“..four and twenty days…he lay still as a dead man; and at the twenty-fifth day befell him after midday that he opened his eyes.” He spends these days in a bed in the castle, which is reminiscent of the bed on the ship, and is essentially that bed, for Lancelot is entranced for a revolution of the world. And it is a measure of his evolution that when he awakes he is able to remember his ‘dreaming’, and so to integrate it into his life.

p.259 “And when he was.. arrayed they marvelled all, for they knew him that he was Lancelot, the good knight.”

So he returns to the outer world, re-assuming his normal outer shape. And after a communion meal in the castle, representing the outward aspect of the Grail, of which all worthy men may partake…as of the communion of the orthodox Church, he makes his way back to the heart of the outer world (Camelot) by way of a “white abbey” and then an ordinary abbey; a gradual progress through symbols from Within to Without.

Chapter XVIII p. 261

“Galahad.. at the last.. came to the Abbey where King Mordrains was…which had lain blind a long time.”

This appears to be another identification of King Evelake (see notes to p.195 above) who has been waiting throughout time for the coming of the knight so evolved that he may pass through him out of his distinct form (by which he is in the constant pain of separation) and be assumed into the whole. This is possible through Galahad, for he is now, after his time with Lancelot and his adventures in the world, both “the flower of the lily in whom virginity is signified, and…the rose, the which is the flower of all good virtues, and in colour of fire.” Which is to say that he contains within himself the White and the Red at once: the lily, the single horn beyond fruitfulness, and the rose, the exfoliation of the world from a single centre.

After this manifestation of his wholeness, Galahad has but two more highly symbolic ‘adventures’ to perform:

p262 “he found the great well the which boileth with great waves…and as soon as (he) set his hand thereto it ceased… for that it brent was a sign of lechery..”

Not precisely ‘lechery’, but involvement through the senses in the world; his quelling of the well seems to be equivalent to the sage’s stilling of the waters of his mind so that it is a mirror reflecting the unmanifest, which is to say that all manifestation is seen to be one. And water, which has been a symbol for ‘passage’, is seen as a symbol for ‘dwelling’.

Secondly “he saw a tomb which burnt full marvellously….And he went down upon gretys, and came nigh the tomb. And then the flaming failed and the fire stanched, the which many a day had been great.”

This second and more fearful symbol of transition, the violent red which destroys all forms is equally stilled by and in Galahad; for through him, the inheritor of the role of Fisher King, all souls who seek it may come to dwell in the knowledge of the ‘outer’ world and the ‘inner’ world at once.

And so he takes the body, which for all the years of the author­itarian dispensation has been burning in fire and yet unconsumed …for some ‘wrong’… “in his arms and bare it into the Minster …and put him in the earth afore the high altar.”

For his is the new era, foretold by the Gnostics, when the polarizing authoritarian church will be succeeded by the church of the Whole. But it didn’t come to pass. Not then.

p.263 “So on a day it befell that they came out of a great forest and there they met at traverse with Sir Bors…” “Then rode they three a great while till that they came to the castle of Carbonek.”

Out of the forest where each is alone in his ‘adventures’ they ride now in renewed triad toward Carbonek, with the necessary experience of the manifest world.

“Then Eliazar, King Pelles’ son, brought tofore them the broken sword.. And then (Galahad) took the pieces and set them to­gether, and it seemed that they had never been broken..”

In so mending the sword, Galahad gives evidence that, like King Mordrains earlier (p.242), he has all the qualities of the outward sacred king; which is to say that from a position of aware-ness of the inner world he is able to wield the sword of outward manifestation. (Whereas Mordrains himself, having sought beyond his strength within, had become blind, and so was no longer fit to be sacred king; no more was Oedipus when blind; both are them too much withdrawn Within. And so the Sword of Manifestation, linking the outer world to the inner world is broken..

p.263 All are told to leave the chamber except those worthy to stay. This episode is greatly clouded by overlays of ortho­dox Christian ritual, but some at least of its original sense is still apparent.

“So they went hence, all save King Pelles and Eliazar, his son, the which were holy men, and a maid which was his niece. And so these three fellows and they three were there, no more.” Pelles, through scribal confusion, is no longer the maimed king, but the outward king; the maimed king is his inward aspect, and their being portrayed as two is a measure of the two worlds broken apart.

p.264 Nine knights enter the chamber, of whom three “said they were of Gaul, and other three said they were of Ireland, and the other three said they were of Denmark.”

It has been said that this is to bring the numbers at the cere­mony up to twelve as there were twelve apostles. And that may be. But there are further intimations: the Quest began at Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came to the twelve apostles and they went from the room their twelve ways, bearing the One spirit out into the many; ‘and the twelve there and the twelve here are also the twelve parts of Time, the twelve months into which the One Year is broken; and their gathering together here, the parts returning to the whole, and their dispersal again there­after, each part containing the One, is the meaning of the healing of the Maimed King.

And the fact that the other knights are from Gaul, Ireland and Denmark is interesting in that the first two are the other Celtic homelands and the third, with whom there seems to have been great cultural interchange (viz. the Gundestrup cauldron found in Denmark), is the homeland of Odin, the spiritual father of both Galahad and the Grail King. The Quest in fact takes place in a spiritual landscape which for both Celtic and Germanic peoples in Europe is ‘home’. Of which its widespread and long-lived popularity is abundant evidence.

p.264 “..there came out a bed of tree, of a chamber, and in the bed lay a good man sick, and a crown of gold upon his head. But no sword at his feet. For Galahad bears the sword which was at the foot of the bed…the bed in the ship, but ultimately the same bed. The ‘good man’ then, the Maimed King, is likened to the centre of the circle unable to reach the circumference; unable, that is, to participate in the world of growth and decay and hence, as the thigh-wounding suggests, spiritually impotent. The thighs are the part of the body associated with Sagittarius of which the symbol is archer-centaur; if the thighs are then wounded, the horse-body’ ceases to function, and the ‘archer’, the spiritual aspect of man, is immobilized in an inaccessible castle, invisible to the world and unable to vivify it, so that it is spiritually ‘waste’: a circumference without a centre. In contrast to, and illuminative of, this state is the condition of King Math, son of Mathonwy, in the fourth branch of the Mabinogion: “And at that time Math son of Mathonwy might not live save while his two feet were in the fold of a maiden’s lap, unless the turmoil of war prevented him.” Which is to say that, as a sacred king, he lived always in the realm of the unbroken One, except when he took part in the clashes of the world of opposites, when he rode on his horse. The horse was then and was still in the time of the Arthurian Cycle the means by which a high spirit was able to move about the world and gain experience of it, as ‘adventures’; a man on a horse was a symbol in itself of a man who was ‘twice-born’, aware of the world within and the world without. To be thrown from his horse was, for a knight, dangerous and humiliating; and only in exceptional circumstances of a higher quest, where what has always been ‘bad’ must be seen to be ‘good’ as a prelude to the transcending of such distinctions, only then does a knight part from his horse.

For the ‘thrice born’, the initiates of the Greater Mysteries, on the other hand, the horse is no longer necessary. Merlin always walks. And according to Bede, if a Druid priest did ride a horse, it was always a mare; to indicate that, as an hermaphroditic figure, he had wholly encompassed the world of opposites.

p.264 “Therewith a voice said: There be two among you that be not in the quest of the Sangreal, and therefore depart ye. Then King Pelles and his son departed.”

But the maid, ‘Pelles’ niece’, is not said to depart. This may be an oversight of Malory’s, for in the Queste she does depart, but on the other hand it is significant that she is there at all. In all versions of the earlier ‘pageant of the Grail’, with either Perceval or Gawain as witness, the chalice of healing blood is carried by a maiden. This blood has be­come ‘Christ’s blood’, but it may have been other earlier; it may indeed help us to understand why Caesar spoke of the Druidic sacrifices of blood.

For the bowl of blood which the maiden carries in the pageant is strongly reminiscent of the bowl of blood of which the Maiden (‘Perceval’s sister’) is bled so that the Lady of the Castle may be healed, and the world reborn.

Now this bowl of blood is the centre of the ceremony, which seen in diagram is the centre of five groups of three: the four groups of three knights, and the fifth: “angels; two bare candles of wax, and the third a towel and the fourth a spear which bled marvellously, that three drops fell within a box which he held in his other hand.” These, then are two pairs: the clear light of the One, and against it the weapon and container of blood, the lingam-yoni, the One-in-Many; and between these pairs: the priest.

Just as he ‘bridges’ the gap between the two worlds, so we have intimations that each of the other groups consists of three of which one is the ‘crown’ (When Lancelot had his glimpse of the Grail, it seemed to him “that above the priest’s hands were three men, whereof the two put the youngest by like­ness between the priest’s hands). Of another group, “the three knights of Gaul, one of them hight Claudine, King Claudas’ son, and the other two were great gentlemen.”

What I suggest with great hesitancy, for the evidence is very scanty, is that there remains in this Grail ceremony some faint hints of the earlier ceremonies of the Druids; which is import­ant to note only insofar as the ceremonies appear to have been not mere fertility rites nor barbaric sacrifices, but a ritual­ization of mythic truths, through which man may experience these truths with his whole being, and so maintain, while living a separated life on the circumference of the circle, an inexplicable awareness of its centre, where all lives are One. The pattern, then, of the Grail ceremony seems to shadow the pattern of the five great dolmens of Stonehenge; each of the four lesser ones representing each of the triad of knights, and the fifth, greatest dolmen standing for the ultimate pol­arities and the officiating priest astride them. And in the centre, on the altar stone, the blood of the Maiden (taken from her right arm), the World in potential, waiting for the sun to rise, for the light of the universe to penetrate the bowl of earthly blood, so that the Queen of the World of Becoming may be reborn. At which moment the five great dolmens supported by the Light are illustrative of the Tree of Life, with the greatest dolmen, pierced by the light itself, on the World-axis and the four lesser dolmens representing the Four Branches, the four directions into the world of ‘adventures’ where the four triads of knights will carry the sense of the Whole.

It will be thought by many that this correspondence is forced and even absurd. Doubtless it is greatly in error. But it seems to contain some resonance of truth, and if it helps others to pursue and even discover that truth, or other aspects of truth, then it will have done its work well.

p.266 “And Galahad went anon to the spear…and touched the blood with his fingers, and came after to the maimed king and anointed his legs..(and healed him)”

The wounds whereby the current which should flow between the outer and inner worlds had been short-circuited are thus healed by him who is able to dwell in both worlds and wield the Sword which is One within and Two without.

Being healed, the king “yielded him to a place of religion of white monks, and was a full holy man.”

which indicates that he becomes an intermediary, within a recognized system of symbols, between the circumference of the circle and its centre.

p.266 “Right so departed Galahad, Percivale and Bors with him and so they rode three days and then they came to a rivage, and found the ship whereof the tale speaketh of tofore.” Having completed the trials of their second life, they are translated back to the sea, to be carried to Sarras, the Holy City, where, ‘thrice-born’…for this time on the Sea is their second ‘death’…they will see the Grail openly.

“And they found in the middes of the table of silver which they had left with the Maimed King, and the Sangreal which was covered with red samite.”

Henceforth the Grail, though still covered, is always with them, as an outward sign of the ever-present living in them… the trinity…of the two worlds.

p.267 “And so (Galahad) laid him down (in the bed) and slept a great while; and when he awaked he looked afore him and saw the city of Sarras.”

Which is to say that he hangs in trance upon the world tree while he passes from West to East, so uniting them. (The Hanged Man in the Tarot is associated with the direction West to East on the Cube of Space, and with the letter ‘Mem’ in the Hebrew alphabet, which means ‘seas’ or ‘water’.) Time ceases and he awakes in Sarras. Here, ‘thrice born’, he passes through his third life, an archetypal life, a paradigm, before being brought into the presence of and assumed into the Grail.

“Then took they out of the ship the table of silver, and he took it to Percevale and to Bors, to go before, and Galahad came behind.

Of which the diagram is:

Illustrating the trinity, or the three highest aspects of the quaternal soul of each and every man, proceeding from the waters of potential into the created world, with the symbol of eternity in their midst.

“so went they to the city, and at the gate of the city they saw an old man crooked. Then Galahad called him and bad him help… He found himself as whole as ever he was. Then ran he to the table and took one part against Galahad.”

Thus they enter into the city:

For as the trinity, they may not; to them must be added the fourth from the world, else they would not be comprehensible in the world, which is to say they simply would not be seen. The cripple, taking the part in the holy city which is the part of Lancelot in the world, here represents the ‘crippled’ sacred king, who is “at the gate of the city”, being the intermediary between it and the life beyond (or within). As a single figure he is a cripple: only as part of the quaternity is he whole.

“the three knights went to the water, and brought up into the palace Percivale’s sister, and buried her as richly as a king’s daughter ought to be.”

As Sarras, the Holy City, is the world in paradigm, so it is the natural resting place of the Maiden, the symbol of the world-in-potential. But this is no more her ‘final resting place’ than it is Galahad’s or than the Maimed King’s healing is ‘final’. The legend is told and retold and retold, and time flows round and round, and every moment the world is born and the world dies, and the purpose of the Quest is to help us all to be in the living and dying at once.

“Then the king was a tyrant…and put them in prison in a deep hole.”

A tyrant in the sense that he attempts to rule for himself alone and not as the representative of the law of the universe; he is the ego who, fearful that the Light will destroy it (as, in a sense, it will) thrusts the light into darkness.

At the same time, for Galahad the meaning is that he must for the third time experience the world; and as the city of Sarras is a paradigm, so his experience of it is of polar extremes: the lowest and then the highest.

p.268 “Our Lord sent them the Sangreal, through whose grace they were always fulfilled while that they were in prison.” Which is to say that the sense of the Whole was ever within them while they were in the midst of transitory suffering; by which therefore, seeing it as illusory, they were not bound. Then, “at the year’s end”, the tyrant-king dies, and Galahad is chosen to succeed him; indeed forced to succeed him.. “and else they would have slain him”, for he must now experience the opposite pole of ‘life’, -its active, bright side. Which, for the contemplative spirit is often the most difficult of all to accept. But accept it he must, for he, like everyone, is res­ponsible for the world, and must play his allotted role therein.

And so “at the year’s end” he ceases to be king, and is allowed to cease; and, having experienced one revolution of the world in each of its halves, he is able at last to behold the Grail openly, “that hath been my desire many a day. now…would I not longer live.”

“(Then he) went to Percivale and kissed him, and commended him to God; and so he went to Sir Bors and kissed him and commended him to God, and said: Fair lord, salute me to my lord, Sir Launcelot, my father..”

Before being assumed into the Grail, he, binds himself afresh to the two other members of the quaternity who are present, and, through Bors, to the one who is not; for it is only, through

the holding together of these four that the Grail and the World can be known to each other. A diagram of this last paradigmatic experience might be drawn thus:

Then ” when Percivale and Bors saw Galahad dead, they made as much sorrow as ever did two men. And if they had not been good men, they might lightly have fallen in despair.”

That is, if they saw only the body of Galahad, the wrack left behind, and were unable to maintain in themselves any sense of the transition, or of the Light into which he had been assumed. But, being ‘good men’, which is to say, men of evolved spirit, they are aware of the Light even within themselves.

And so Percivale retires to a hermitage, and becomes a holy man, an inward witness for those nearing the end of their Quest; and Bors departs again “into the realm of Logris; and he rode so fast till he come to Camelot. And bears outer witness.

“Then Launcelot took Sir Bors in his arms, and said: Gentle cousin, ye are right welcome to me…And wit ye well, gentle cousin, Sir Bors, that ye and I will never depart in sunder whilst our lives may last. Sir, said he, I will as ye will.” And so Within and Without are bound together in the quaternity of wholeness, through which all men may at last achieve the Grail. For the quaternity is within all men.

* * *

Notes on the Trojan War


What was the Trojan War?

What was Troy? A mercantile entrepôt, strategically situated at the foot of Mt. Ida on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, in the second millennium before the ‘Christian Era’.

Was it?

Who built its walls? Apollo and Poseidon (with the help of Aeacas, a mortal). Poseidon laid the stones in his quality as the Oceanic source of all matter and Apollo tuned them to Heaven with the music of his lyre. Such august builders are ascribed to no other city of the ancient Hellenic world.

Why ‘with the help of Aeacas, a mortal’ (though son of Zeus by Aegina)? Because otherwise the walls would have been unbreachable by men. And, even so, they were not breached: the ‘Achaeans’ or ‘Danaeans’ (Homer’s names for the Greeks) concealed in the belly of the Wooden Horse, were drawn by the Trojans in through the main gate of the city. Only thus, by the subterfuge of the ‘man of many resources’, Odysseus, and its own willing, could the city be taken.

And in the city, the ‘abducted’ Helen is waiting for them, willing to return with them to Sparta, her native land, and her royal husband, Menelaos. And Athene, ever favouring the Achaeans, allows Odysseus and Diomedes to enter her temple in the heart of the city, and remove from it the Palladium, it having been prophesied that until these two, Helen and the Palladium, have left the city, it cannot fall. Both now leave it (the Palladium in the hands of Diomedes) and sail to Greece, and the city is burned to the ground.

What is this ‘Palladium’?

It was said to be an image of Athene, Etymologically the word ‘palladium’ is thought to derive from ‘Pallas’ (cognate withphallos’), the male aspect of Athene; the physical form was said to have held a spear in its right hand and a distaff in the left (weaving the world with one hand while destroying it with the other), so representing its androgyny (like that of Athene herself, of whom it is never said that she had a lover). But the tales of its origins are various.

According to Hesiod, there were two Palladiums. The original (equivalent to the inward ‘unmoving’ aspect of God), was a gift by Zeus to his son Dardanus, and was always ‘kept hidden’. That which the Greeks stole was its copy; the outward show, as it were, mirror to the inward essence, wherein we may have a glimpse of the One-infusing-the-Many. By this reading, the Palladium remained ever in Troy, in the midst of its ashes, its image alone travelling with Diomedes to Greece; (or, according to Virgil, with Aeneas to Rome; and then, according to later legend again, with ‘Brutus’ to Britain).

This ‘outward’ image appears to date from the time of King Ilus, grandson to Dardanus, who (according to Ovid and Apollodorus) prayed for a good augury from Zeus for the city which he was intending to build; and next morning saw a wooden object lying in front of his tent, half-buried in the earth, and overgrown with weeds; a legless image three cubits high. .This was the (outward) Palladium which was placed at the heart of the temple of Athene at the heart of the holy city of Troy, itself the outward manifestation on earth of heavenly Olympus.

In another, elaborate, tale, the Palladium was said to have been carved of dolphin ivory, becoming in its first metamorphosis the shoulderblade of Pelops, eponymous forefather of the Greeks of the Peloponnese; replacing his original, which Demeter is said to have eaten at a banquet to the gods, at which Pelops’ father, Tantalus, offered his cooked body. The other gods abstaining, his body, with the dolphin-bone shoulder, was resurrected, in beauty so great that Poseidon took him for his cupbearer and beloved.

According to the legend, Pallas was the ‘playmate’ in Libya of Athene, whose name, when he died, Athene added to her own, and had an image made of him which she set up on Olympus beside Zeus’ throne. But when Ilus’ great-grandmother (Dardanus’ mother) the pleiad Electra, was violated by Zeus and defiled it with her touch, (she herself being defiled in receiving Zeus’ essence physically, rather than as ‘ambrosia’), Athene angrily cast her, with the image, down to earth; where, found by Ilus, it was enshrined in a temple dedicated to herself, in the city (sometimes called ‘Ilion’ after him) which its presence denoted as Zeus’ own presence on earth in the image of his twice-born daughter, Athene.

Troy, then, was a sacred city.


The story of the ‘Trojan War’ is, apart from the interfusion of elements of the divine with the human, naturalistic and simple, its ‘human’ surface detail, like the bright waves on the ocean, almost obscuring the teaching beneath. Helen, the daughter (twin daughter, with Clytemnestra) is born from one of two eggs (the twin Dioscouroi, Castor and Polydeukes are born from the other) laid by her mother, Leda (wife to Tyndareus, king of Sparta), who had been ravished by Zeus in the guise of a swan. She grew to be the most beautiful woman of the time, and was sought in marriage by every well-born man in Greece. It was said that the only man fit to be her mate was Achilles; but he at the time was but a youth, living on Mount Pelion with Cheiron the centaur, whose pupil in the art of life he was. And so Helen chose Menelaos of Argos to be her husband. Their union was happy, and a daughter, Hermione, was born to them.

But the fame of her beauty had spread so far, that it reached the ears and enflamed the body of Paris, second son to Priam, King of Troy. Determining to take Helen for himself, Paris sought the help of Aphrodite, who was indebted and grateful to him for his decision in her favour some time earlier, when asked by her (and Athene and Hera) which of them was the most beautiful. When she agreed to help him, he sailed from Troy to Sparta, where Menelaos had succeeded to Helen’s father’s kingdom. There he found her bathing in the river Eurotas, and took her back with him to Troy, where she was received with great honour, and foreboding.

The Achaian nobility, outraged at the theft of the sister of Clytemnestra, now queen to their High King Agamemnon (brother to Menelaos) of Argos-Mycenae, gathered together and agreed to build ships and raise an army, and sail to Troy to reclaim her. Achilles, now grown, and the finest warrior in Greece, was among them, and Ajax and Patroclos and Diomedes and other such heroes of the time; and old Nestor, king of Pylos. And Odysseus of Ithaca, the ‘resourceful’ man of many wiles (who, it was said, was unwilling to take part in the war, had to be persuaded to it by Menelaos and Palamedes.)

There were many difficulties attendant on the undertaking; and overcoming them created others, as the web was woven; and the gods took part in its weaving, and sides in the quarrel. When the Greeks were, at last, gathered at the port of Iolcos on the eastern shores of Greece, they found themselves facing two principal obstacles: the wind for many days blew only, and strongly, from the north, preventing them from sailing; and when it ceased, after the sacrifice of Iphigenia (daughter to Agamemnon) to the gods (angering as many as it pleased), they realized that they none of them knew exactly at what location Troy was to be found. (Curious, for a city so famous.) So, to guide them, they took with them the renegade Trojan high priest and seer, Calchas.

After many days sailing, and misdirections, they at last drew up their ships on a broad beach, upon which they set up their tents, not far from the high walls of the city; to which they laid siege.

The siege lasted for ten years. At the end of it, Troy had not fallen. But, in their turns, in reprisals, the greatest heroes had. Hector, eldest son of Priam, and the core of Trojan virtue and resistance, kills Patroclos, Achilles’ bosom friend; Achilles, in his revengeful rage, kills Hector; and is himself killed (by a wound in the heel, the only place he was vulnerable, being where his mother had held him, as a baby, in the icy waters of the Styx) by Paris (or, some say, by Apollo himself, disguised as Paris).

The Greeks then appear, from Troy, to be dispirited, and retreating, sailing away. And to be leaving behind them what appears to be a parting gift: a great horse made of wood, many times life size, left on the beach alone, all the ships of the Greeks having disappeared beyond the horizon. Where, however, they remain, waiting; because the great wooden horse is hollow, and Greek soldiers (the lowest estimate of their number being twenty-three) are concealed within it, under the command of Odysseus, the deviser of the subterfuge. After spirited debate among the leading Trojans, it is agreed to treat the horse not as a threat but as a boon, and it is hauled within the gates. (Laocoon, a priest, ‘seeing’ the danger and warning against it, is, with his sons, strangled to death by a great serpent, sent from the sea by Poseidon, who favoured the Greeks, to silence him.)

In the night that follows, when all Troy is asleep, the hatch in the belly of the horse is opened, a ladder is lowered, and the Greeks descend to the great court of Troy. The gates of the city are flung open and the army of Greeks, returned to the shore, floods into the city. Amid the ravaging and pillage of fire and sword, Helen is found and makes known her wish to return to Sparta with Menelaos. Cassandra, Priam’s daughter and a prophetess (‘ever speaking truth, never to be believed’) becomes the ‘prize’ of Agamemnon, and the Palladium is removed from Athene’s temple and carried from the city. The Greeks with their booty leave the city as it burns, with all its slain inhabitants, to the ground.

The victors sail away in various directions, with various fortunes: Menelaos and Helen blown to Egypt, where they live some years before returning to Sparta and a peaceful life; old Nestor to his well-regulated kingdom; Agamemnon to his violent death at the hands of Aegisthos, lover of his wife, Clytemnestra, and (some say) her own. And Odysseus to ten years of wandering over the seas, with many adventures, before he is allowed to return to his kingdom of Ithaca, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachos, born just before he left for Troy. He quells the turbulence in his kingdom, restores it to peace.

So. It is a story known to millions in the ages since the time of its ‘happening’; enjoyed, even loved, by (probably) most of them, little questioned by any. Why question a legend or tale?

But what is it all about? Because, under the naturalistic surface, which conceals far more than it shows, lie the truths that underlie all legends and myths which strive to say the unsayable; to touch not our minds, but our souls.


It may well be said that it all began with Prometheus.

Prometheus who stole the Olympian Fire to give it to men, that they might make with its agency artefacts of every kind out of the richness of the earth (Gaia, their Mother).

In punishing Prometheus for this theft, Zeus conceals that the ‘crime’ is, in fact, within his Will. (Equally Lucifer, the ‘light bearer’, the biblical counterpart to Prometheus, is the first emanation of the divine from the One Self into the Manifest, God-alpha into God-omega. Willed emanation; but the Will concealed, denied; the One remaining ever the One.)

Pursued and caught by Zeus, Prometheus is chained to the icy rocks of the Caucasus, high above the city of Colchis; there, each day, his liver is torn from his body, and eaten, by an eagle; and each night grows anew.

These ‘days’ and ‘nights’ are aeons, as in the days and nights of Vishnu; the nights, like his, being the world adream, and slowly growing in dream, until ‘day’ dawns again, and in the light the dream becomes flesh, emblematically the liver, the seat of dreams; which is consumed by the eagle (the emblem and vehicle of Zeus, as the vulture Garuda is of Vishnu), so reassuming into the One all the ‘artefacts’, physical, mental and moral which men make, in joy and sorrow, throughout the course of the ‘day’, the aeon. (This also is ‘the Will’, of the Many to return into the One, enriching it, each with his mite.) As ‘night’ falls, the eagle withdraws, and Prometheus sleeps, and dreams the ‘outer world’ again with the growing again of his liver. When it is full-grown, he opens his eyes to the day of the new aeon, in which all he has dreamed becomes flesh, to be reassumed throughout ‘the day’ back into the mind of Zeus.

In this cyclic ‘event’ Prometheus experiences the ‘crucifixion’ of the Mesocosm mediating between the One and the Many; (his name being, it has been said, a variant of the Sanskrit ‘pramantha’: a swastika, or firedrill, through which fire appears in the world out of—apparently—Nothing). In so ‘mediating’, he holds the two ‘worlds’ apart as he holds them together: stretched on the ‘St. Andrew’s cross’ at the centre of the symbol for Infinity. Equally, at the far end of the Hellenic world, where the sun, risen in the Caucasus, sinks into the Atlantic ocean, his brother Atlas holds the ‘two worlds’ together as he holds them apart; they being both sons of Ouranos and Gaia, Heaven and Earth.


The ‘tale’ now, on the earth-plane, becomes tangled, much more densely populated and annotated, much more difficult to read.

We are told of Jason, and the Golden Fleece.

What have they to do with Prometheus? Or Troy?

The Golden Fleece was found by Jason at Colchis, below the peak of the Caucasus where Prometheus was chained. according to a legend whose origins are very old, woven into the ‘history’ of the Aeolian Greeks; whose capital, in eastern Beotia, was Orchomenos, a city which was born, flourished and died before the stones of Thebes (‘Beotian Thebes’) were ever laid, by ‘Egyptian Cadmus’. The eponymous father of the line, Aeolos, numbered among his grandsons, Aeson, who founded Iolcos, whence his son Jason sailed for Colchis; and whence, later in the aeon (since myths unfold in Time) the Achaeans sailed for Troy. Through another son, Athamas, and Nepheli (an image, formed of sunlit cloud, of Hera herself) Aeolos was grandfather to Phrixos. Phrixos and Aeson then were cousins, and with Phrixos began the cycle which was to conclude with Aeson’s son Jason bringing the Golden Fleece to Greece. For the ‘work’ of the Outer world was to nourish and enrich the Inner so that the Inner might, in turn, nourish and enrich the Outer; a pattern repeated with the Trojan War, and any ‘heroic quest’, whatever its surface articulation.

According to the ‘history’, a false Delphic oracle persuaded Athamas that he must sacrifice to Zeus his son Phrixos (‘so that fields would be fertile’). As he was about to perform his ‘duty’, a winged ram with golden fleece appeared in the air and descended to the earth; a ram, it was said, created by Hermes and sent by Hera (or Zeus himself) as a surrogate for Phrixos (as, mutatis mutandis, in the biblical legend of Abraham and Isaac), who then mounted the ram and flew on it eastwards to the ‘beginning of the Hellenic world’ at Colchis; where, below the Caucasian peak on which Prometheus was pinioned, he sacrificed the ram to Zeus (like Abraham to Jahweh; ‘giving unto Him what was His own’).

The golden fleece of the ram was retained thereafter in Colchis as a memorial to the gift, under a great tree, guarded by a great dragon; for it is ‘in danger’, like the Olympian Fire before it, of being stolen and taken into the ‘outer world’ and used: woven (under the auspices of Athene, patroness of weaving) into all the multitudinous patterns and forms of ‘the world’; so that that which has been taken in from the outer world, ‘entempled’, made holy, may be taken ‘out’ again, to exfoliate in and enrich the world. (So does ‘Eve’, the exfoliate world, when entempled, become ‘Mary’, out of whose surrendered body Jesus flowers.) This was the inner Will (as it was Zeus’ inner will that Prometheus steal the Fire); the outer Will was that the Fleece remain in the halfway world, of which Colchis (like Troy) was an exemplar, so that only the ‘hero’ worthy of the task might accomplish it truly, surrendering himself to the inner Will even as he strove with mind and body against the outer Will; anyone else would be a power-seeking Faustian wizard, a ‘demon’, what the Hindus called a ‘rakshasa’.

And so the bringing of the Fleece into the Outer World is the work of Jason alone, in ‘the next generation’ of the family of Aeolos. Although given a full genealogical background, densely naturalistic, he is clearly of the pattern of a Hero (in indication of which, the number of his name, a factor of great significance to Greek, as to Judaic, mythographers, is 1061, the same as that for Apollo). Nurtured for the task by Cheiron the Centaur on Mount Pelion, where his vessel, the ‘Argo’, is built, he gathers under his command all the great heroes of Greece, fifty oarsmen, and departs from Iolcos towards Colchis. Passing through the ‘clashing rocks’ of the Bosporos into the Pontos (the Black Sea), they row steadily towards its eastern shore until the prow of the Argo grates against the sand of its beach.

The king of Colchis, Aeetes, is reserved in his welcome to the stranger from the far outer world. But his daughter, Medea, is not; she falls in love with Jason and helps him outwit the great serpent guarding the Golden Fleece, (imaging in this the Inner Will towards Outwardness) so that Jason may steal it in the night; and she sails with him from Colchis before dawn. Discovering the theft, Aeetes pursues the Argonauts the length of the Pontic Sea, but fails, through the wiles of Medea, (the number of whose name is the same as that for Athene) to capture them.

Reaching Orchomenos at last, after many trials, Jason hangs up the Fleece in the temple of Zeus. So, again, returning Within what had been taken Without, like the living ram before it, of which the Fleece was the (symbolic) purification.

But, for reasons endlessly discussed in the days and years that have followed, the union of Jason and Medea was severed; the ‘graft did not take’. Jason (back in his familiar ‘middle world’) prefers Glauce, daughter of the king of Corinth; Medea ‘goes mad’, kills their children, strides the world in anger. Jason, ‘losing his way’, wanders aimlessly, listlessly, dies at last from a blow from the prow of the rotting Argo falling on his head.

However the truth underlying these ‘human events’ may be articulated, the sense of ‘failure’ is strong. Although the Fleece is hanging in Zeus’ temple in Orchomenos, and it was said thereafter that it was through the Fleece that Zeus was able to move between earth and heaven, the Spirit in the outer world of Manifestation is somehow not yet fully alive; the word has not become flesh.

The task of making it so, of going ‘in’ again to bring out the sense of Godhead in its fullness, that it may be lived in the ‘outer’ world, is called The Trojan War.



With the passing of centuries (myth accommodating itself to the needs of time), the ‘outer world’, its central city of Orchomenos fallen, and the Golden Fleece it contained lost to sight, feels bereft of the Inner (and the Inner, ex hypothesi, of the Outer), to such intensity that a fresh impulse occurs, this time from ‘Within’, towards their reintegration and the flowering and fruiting which will follow therefrom.

This impulse, which is expressed in naturalistic narrative as the ‘rape’, the carrying off, of Helen by Paris, while she was bathing in the river Eurotas near her capital of Sparta, draws within the precincts of the City, her who is a mask for, an earthly figure of, Aphrodite (the ‘foam-born’, out of the body of Ocean from the sperm of Heaven, ‘Ouranos’), the spirit of the ocean, of the world of water, whence all forms arise.

By the same token, ‘Paris’ (like his predecessor, Jason) is the mask of Apollo (a mask lifted with the killing of Achilles), the spirit of (solar) fire. And the ‘marrying’ of these two polar, irreconcilable elements, on the field of the ‘inner’ elements of earth and air, is the matter of the Trojan War.

This .matter, the naturalistic surface action, expresses (while it veils) the (inner) will of Troy to fall to the siege of the Outer World. This Will is that the instinctual part of the Whole, its ‘lower’ water-and-earth animal body be conjoined to its ‘upper’ fire-and-air body (of which union the centaur was anciently the symbol, as was the knight on horseback in the era to come); The water-quality of this body entering the City in the person of Helen, and her union there with Paris [comparable to the entempling of, and the Annunciation to, the Virgin Mary], creates the experience of the wholeness of Light and Love [the mystical union of Gabriel and Mary]; but only there, in the City itself, which is to say, in Eternity. For the experience in Time of this wholeness, Earth also must enter the City. Which it does, in the body of the Wooden Horse, in whose body are men of the ‘outer world’ who, in being ‘born’ from it within the City itself, become ‘twice-born men’, able (any one of them, though the task in the tale is given to Odysseus and Diomedes) to carry the androgynous symbol of Wholeness, the Palladium, out of ‘eternity’ (the temple of Athene in the heart of the city) into ‘time’. Helen, the spirit of everflowing Water, departing the city at the same time, its core of Fire and Air consumes itself and the horse of Earth at once, leaving no trace of what had been its dwelling place.

But in the Outer World, wherever the Palladium is enshrined, lives a simulacrum, a scent, an echo of the City, where a sense of the wholeness of the One may still be, if only ritualistically, experienced. While all the ‘life of the world’ (of which ‘Helen’ is the emblem) continues its ever-changing way, its body living and dying, and living, the soul of mankind is imbued with some sense, however little it may often be, of this Wholeness within itself. Which, as Helen, it knew for a time in ‘Troy’, in its fullness.


To understand better the underlying ‘structure’ of The Trojan War, it will be well to look at the gods who took part, and what part they took, and with which side they were allied:

Zeus, as noted earlier, remained neutral; as the ‘God of All’, he lived in, and favoured, both the world of the One and the world of the Many; they being two sides of the same coin (which was Himself).

Apollo favoured Troy. It was his city: the song of his lyre, guiding the hands of Poseidon, had formed its walls; so that the city, in essence as formless as the One itself, might maintain its existence, in an appearance of form, on the earth; a space which anyone living in the Outer World might come to, and be received into. If he could find it; because [like the Grail Castle in its time and place] few—by definition ‘heroes’—would know where to look; which is to say: Within. [‘the Kingdom of God is..’] All others pursue the ‘quest’ distractedly in the trackless Ocean [or ‘forest’] Without, and so never see even the gates of the City (though they are every moment in front of their eyes). It was a measure of the spiritual ‘outwardness’ of the Achaian leaders that they didn’t even know where the city of Troy was standing, and had to be guided there by a renegade priest of Apollo; ‘there’ being, in a mythic sense, not a site on the earth at all.)

Poseidon, who built the walls of Troy with Apollo, performing the manual side of the task, bringing and laying out the matter brought out of the formless Ocean, his hands and the music flowing from Apollo’s lyre shaping that matter into stones, favoured the Greeks (in particular in their identity as Danaans, heirs to the ‘people of the sea’). The walls of the city had been raised by him, but from Without; and now, as the Danaan’s patron god, he wished, through them, to enter in. Physically, this being his nature, as it was theirs: as strong and simple warriors, they knew no other way. Despite all their titles, and extravagant claims of ‘high descent’, it was remarkable, given their gross deficiencies in spirit, that they attained even to the beach in front of the walls of Troy.

Hera also favoured the Greeks, the naturalistic spur to her favour being her anger and resentment against Paris for giving ‘the golden apple of discord’ to Aphrodite rather than to herself. Not seeing (having become, through a number of recensions of her nature, more woman than goddess) how she was herself an essential part of this discord, from which the Outer world was to draw out the golden thread of a ‘new weaving’.

And Hermes favoured the Greeks, retaining still, in his latest recension, his attachment to the Underworld, to which he had been the messenger; and who remained the ‘maker of things’: including the very lyre upon which Apollo played as the walls of Troy were built (being to the lyre what Poseidon was to the stones); and the winged golden ram delivered to Athamas that he might spare Phrixos; this creation then being yielded up in sacrificial fire and smoke to ‘Heaven’, the world as One; whence—like all things—it had come. In the counter direction, with his help to the Greeks, (through his human counterpart, Odysseus, the ‘man of many wiles’) would he enable Troy, the very symbol on earth of the One, itself be yielded. (Yielded, not taken; for Hermes’ nature remained what it had always been, that of the dweller at once in the world of Being and in that of Becoming.) So Troy was entered, through the means of the Wooden Horse (horses, as well as all arts and crafts, being of the realm of Hermes); and surrendered—and the horse equally—into the annihilating Fire.

Aphrodite naturally (though ‘foam-born’ out of Ocean, she was the child also of Ouranos, his fiery sperm frothing in the sea like Shiva’s in the Ganges) favoured Troy, she having been favoured by it, in the person of Paris; and having favoured, encouraged, the bringing by him of her own earthly image, Helen, within the very walls of Troy; so making of it her city, as well as Apollo’s, the central dwelling place in the Outer world not only of Light, but of Love. ‘Entempling’ herself [as the ‘virgin Mary’ was in her time entempled, so evolving out of the ‘pagan’ Eve], willing herself to be at one with the Light; a state possible only for the blink of an eye, the moment of all-ceasing. The next moment the fleet of the Achaean-Danaans is seen on the horizon.

Athene’s role was ambiguous, in keeping with her dual, androgyne, nature: originally the wild Libyan goddess, [the Durga or Kali of her time and place] she is ‘reborn’ from the heavenly head of Zeus; so becoming, in her spiritual androgyny, a symbol of the symbiosis of Heaven and Ocean, Fire and Water, Light and Dark. The physical emblem of this symbiosis is the Palladium: Athene and Pallas, female and male, conjoined in one image, contained in her temple at the heart of Troy; a temple open to the sky whence, in accord with more than one variant of the myth, it was said to have fallen. At the very heart, therefore, of Heaven’s City on Earth.


The outward line of guardians of this sacred City [equivalent to the successive ‘Keepers of the Grail’] descend from Dardanus, who was the fruit of Zeus’ mating with Electra, to Priam, who is king in Troy when the Achaeans come to besiege it; a line of ‘earthly kings’ who rule a people who live their daily lives by the conditions of the polarities of outward manifestation, and their inner lives by this emblem of Wholeness in their midst: the Palladium, enshrined in the temple of Athene. While it is in their midst, the City lives in Wholeness, and therefore cannot be taken, let alone destroyed, by the clashing arms of men in Outwardness. Therefore was it said that Troy would not, could not, fall unless and until the Palladium were removed from it.

It was also said that while Helen remained in Troy it could not be taken; Helen being the earthly ‘mask’ of Aphrodite, goddess of ‘Love’, that aspect of the Whole, in its form of raw Desire, which is the source of all creative energy. Drawn, ‘lured’, into Troy, ‘entempled’ therein, united with Apollonian Light in the ‘mask’ of Paris, Helen evolves from Desire to Love; and the rough Fire of Paris to clear Light. While they remain together in harmony the City is impregnable; indeed it is invisible, its existence intuited by mankind Without, but its situation unknown. So that they ‘dwell in darkness’.

In order then that they may regain their lost sense of the Divine, the ‘withdrawal of God’ (which they see as the ‘abduction’ of Helen), the Greeks besiege Troy (guided to it by the renegade priest, Calchas; ‘renegade’ he may be, but as a priest he retains at least a ‘ritual sense’ of the way to ‘God within’), with all the strength and skills of their bodies. In which they are unsuccessful; because the City is not willing to be taken.

And yet, under veils, it is. Athene knows that her image, the Palladium, must find a home in the outer world, in order that men may have a sense of ‘god’ at every moment of their material day. Helen, the ‘face’ of Aphrodite, equally knows (and expresses, in her wish to return to Sparta) that Love, now ‘entempled’, spiritualized, must live in the world Without, infusing it with the Light issuing from Within; until, in the fullness of time, Troy is not a nearly undiscoverable co-ordinate of Light and Love, but the whole of the living world.

To this end, understanding nothing of it, the ‘Achaeans-Danaans’ (for ‘earthly’ reasons, which yet are resonant of the truth within) are roused to besiege Troy, to draw out from it the conjoined emblem of Helen and the Palladium. (Though the focus, in the naturalistic style of the time and place, is entirely on Helen; on woman as the loved object, rather than on the symbol of the fusion in androgyny of male and female energies.)

This drawing out of spiritual energy from Troy into the world was the hidden will of Zeus himself (as it had been his hidden will that Prometheus should steal the Olympian fire. To this end, the Palladium was housed in the temple of Athene, Zeus’ vehicle or ‘avatar’ in the manifest world, born from his own head, or mind; whose function was to manifest his will to the Greeks, in allowing, even assisting, them to remove the Palladium from her temple.

Athene’s ‘agent’ in this task is Odysseus, the ‘polytropos’, the resourceful man without whose skills the Greeks will find no way of breaching the walls of Troy; because they will (as they do), besiege it as the Titans besieged the Gods on Olympus: from ‘outside’; bodily. Odysseus alone realizes that it can be taken only from ‘within’, of its own willing. So did Helen will that she be taken by Paris to Troy; she was no more ‘raped’ by him than Mary was by Gabriel. [‘Be it unto me according to thy word.’] And then ‘willed’ herself to be drawn out of Troy again, in accord with the Will, thus fulfilling the cycle.)

But the legend runs that Odysseus was himself unwilling to take part in the siege of Troy. To persuade him, Menelaos and Palamedes (significantly said to be the father of letters, through which inchoate nature is structured into forms cognizable by the mind) go to Ithaca, where they find him ‘feigning madness’ by ploughing a field with an ox and an ass yoked together, sowing salt and wearing a felt hat like half an eggshell. Which is to say, straddling the whole of time, the beginning and the end: The ox, or bull, of Osiris, king of the growing year, and the ass of Set, his slayer, king of the year of ‘gathering in’; equally ‘sowing salt’ represents (like Lot’s wife) his being at the end of the era, the gathering together into one substance of all the varieties of the two ‘microcosmic’ elements of earth and air; and the ‘half-eggshell’ symbolizes his being equally at the moment of the era’s birth. As such, he claims to emblemize the whole microcosmic world, and be therefore unable to function in any single personality or event; which claim Palamedes refutes by placing Odysseus’ baby son Telemachos on the ground directly in front of the plough; thereby indicating that Odysseus has a particular personality (be it only a ‘vehicle’) through which he may, and therefore must, play his part in the ‘Siege of Troy’. And so he does. [In similar vein does Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, speak to Arjuna.]

Odysseus’ essential task, which none of the other ‘heroes’ was equipped to accomplish, was to devise a means of bringing the Achaeans within the walls of Troy, when the ‘Titanic’ besieging of them had ‘failed’ (though its necessary work of ‘emptying the space’ between ‘outwardness’ (the ocean) and ‘inwardness’ (the City) had been accomplished). And so, under his direction, the Wooden Horse was built, in order that the Achaeans, in their being ‘reborn’ out of it into the City, shall become ‘Trojans’ themselves, able (and willing) to carry its holy ‘virtue’—of which the Palladium is the emblem—outwards into the manifest world, to nourish every man living with an intuition of ‘God’

Odysseus’ task seems not to have included his personal carrying of the Palladium out of Troy. With Diomedes (‘god-like cunning’), he removes it from Athene’s temple, but it is Diomedes alone who carries it to Greece. Which seems to identify him as the outer aspect of Odysseus (and their number as a pair =1823, which +1 and divided by two equals the number of Prometheus (912), the original stealer of the Fire of Heaven, out of which act all the principal heroes of the Myth: Jason, Odysseus, Heracles evolve. Prometheus, Jason and Odysseus, on their different planes, are representative [like Lucifer] of the Outgoing ‘Light-bringing’ Microcosm; Heracles [like Christ] of the Microcosm-in-Return, restoring, through interiorizing and assimilating to himself all the manifold experiences of life, the ‘10,000 things’ into the One).

The Odyssean aspect of ‘Odysseus-Diomedes’ sets out on his decade of ‘adventure’ with the ‘Palladium’ within him; which is to say that he remains aware of his ‘rebirth’ out of the womb of Troy, and his oneness with it, as he explores the multifarious forms of the Outer World, until he comes to know his oneness with them all; at which moment he sees Athene unmasked, in her own person. In this transcendent awareness he returns home, appearing, but appearing only [like the man in the ‘ten cow-herding pictures’ of Zen Buddhism], to be the same ‘King Odysseus’ he was when he left.

And the holy ‘City of Troy’, Helen and the Palladium both gone forth from it, to enrich the ‘outer’ world, withdraws into itself, into the fire which is its innermost (and formless) symbol.

Chapter and Verse:

According to Hesiod, at the time of Helen’s being sought in marriage by all the high-born men in Greece: ‘Cheiron was tending the son of Peleus, swift-footed Achilles, on woody Pelion; for he was still a boy. Neither warlike Menelaos nor any of the other men on earth would have prevailed in suit for Helen if fleet Achilles had found her unwed; but as it was, warlike Menelaos won her before.’

Warlike’, and ‘red-haired’ (a revealing ‘natural’ attribute given him), Menelaos is the ‘mask on earth’ of Ares, (who, like his planet Mars, is ‘red’), and so the appropriate husband of Helen, the ‘mask on earth’ of Aphrodite. And ‘Harmonia’, the fruit of the union of (fiery) Ares and (watery) Aphrodite, is reproduced in the daughter of Menelaos and Helen: Hermione; who—at the conclusion of all the events of ‘The Trojan War’, at the time of Telemachos’ visit to Sparta in search of news of his father, Odysseus—is to be wed to Neoptolemos, son of Achilles. Closing the circle.

Why did this happen? Why was Achilles still a boy on Pelion at the time Helen was to be married? Since, (unlike ‘natural’ time) ‘mythic’ time is fluid, his being ‘unready’ is meaningful of the condition of the times. He was ‘unready’ because they were unready for such a high union.

Helen herself was ‘unready’. Though born of Zeus’ ravishing of her mother, Leda, she had herself no inner awareness of the world whence He came. She was like Eve of the bible, image of the flowering and seeding earth, unaware of its own godhead; Love in its unhallowed state of raw Desire.

Her sister, Clytemnestra (like Helen married to an earthly king, the earthly king of the time and place: Agamemnon, brother to Menelaos), was equally, in this ‘world of flow’, conditioned by the times into ‘walled’ structures, both mental and physical, called ‘kingdoms’; in which both Zeus-born sisters were unknowingly imprisoned.

But they ‘escaped’, in contrary ways: when Helen (as the immortal twin) is drawn ‘inward’ to Troy (the outpost on earth of heaven), her Desire ‘entempled’ there to Love (in her love of Paris, cloak of Apollo), Clytemnestra (her mortal sister) reverts, like Medea before her, to her ‘dragon’ form, breaking the bonds, the ‘rules’ of patriarchal society, which bound her in Agamemnon’s ‘kingdom’, making it (with Aegisthus as her lover) her own.

Who then was Paris, that Helen should accompany him to Troy?

He was the second son of King Priam and of Hecuba, his queen. Before he was born, it is said, his mother saw in a dream a great firebrand, that would burn up the world. So he had, in traditional mode, been exposed on a hillside; and, in continuance of the mode, been rescued therefrom and become a shepherd (of great beauty) on Mount Ida, whither the three goddesses Hera, Athene and Aphrodite came to him with a golden apple, which he was to award to her who was the most beautiful; she offering in return what gift was particularly in her power.

He chose Aphrodite, and Love. And so it is said that, with her help, he went to Sparta and carried off Helen from Menelaos’ kingdom and took her to Troy as his beloved.

But why under the dense weaving of natural detail, did he do this?

Because he was, under these veils, the earthly icon of Apollo: the Light of heaven which manifested on earth in Promethean Fire. That Fire had gone out into the world, but the Light, of which it was the physical vibration, was still enclosed within the walls of Troy; and it was time now for it to be seen in the world. To be known.

For which ‘the world’ had to be made ready; else the Light would overpower, blind, it, and it would regress to monstrous creations: typhons and pythons and hydras, such as ‘Hera’ was said to create without ‘Zeus’. Earth without Heaven. The unready mind, seeing Reality through the rent veil of the temple, will run mad.

So Helen, the emblem of the proliferating earth, was enfolded in Paris’ arms as she bathed in her all-pervading creative element of water, and ‘entempled’ in Troy, until all her ‘wild desire’ evolved into the fullness of Love.

Bathed in this Love through the years of the siege, Paris’ ‘fiery’ nature becomes transparent to the Light within him until he is but a mask of Apollo himself.

In which exalted state he is able to kill Achilles.

What does this mean?

Who is Achilles, upon whom the whole of the Iliad, fragment of the War though it be, is centred?

He appears to emblemize the utmost virtues of the ‘outward world’, insofar as it is able to see itself (not, at any time, very far); so he is ‘fleet’ and ‘brave’, ‘the finest warrior’, ‘most beautiful man’, etc. But also (his ‘natural’ qualities, representing the qualities of the society he inhabits): vainglorious, boastful, quick to anger and feel slight, prone to sulk and to remain sulking, scorner of those ‘less worthy’ than himself; to which behaviour the society, like all societies, gives epithets more favourable than these.

He was also, in a deeper sense, a Hero of the ‘outward’ world of Water, a son of the sea-nymph, Thetis, (herself the daughter of Ocean), who, in order that he shall be invulnerable in battle, bathes him in the River Styx, all his body but his heel, by which she held him; (and although, on the surface, this appears ‘careless’, it could not be otherwise: had she not held him, the Styx, river of death that it was, would have carried him off at that moment; only his mother’s own immortality can hold him from death, until the destined moment, when nothing can shelter him from the destroying Light of Apollo.

And with the death of Achilles, the sandy beach which has been the battleground of the ‘Achaians-Danaeans’ and the ‘Trojans’ (embodying the encounter of the polar opposites of Sky and Ocean, fire and water, Light and Love), is bare and still; a barrier, it appears, not to be broken. And Troy, it appears, is not to be taken; but to remain intact, Helen and the Palladium both remaining within it; the Greeks, like the Titans before them at the foot of Olympus, defeated.

That the outcome was other was due to a peculiarity: the evolution in man of the Intellect, the discriminatory vision of two eyes focussing on one point, seeing at one moment all three dimensions of the manifest world. This vision is epitomized in Odysseus, ‘o polytropos’, the man of many resources; and articulated in the episode after the War where he encounters Polyphemos the Cyclops and puts out his single eye of instinctual, two dimensional sight. With this act, he symbolically suppresses his own inner single eye, ‘blinding himself’, to enable himself to move, as ‘Noman’ (‘Oudeis’), in the ‘outward world’, as if there were no other; so that his experience of it becomes, in his ‘adventures’, its experience of itself; which ‘adventures’, until then, as one-eyed Polyphemos, he was unable to undertake, as he had seen everything as flat images and patterns, the meaning of which, he being unable to see their full, three-dimensional forms, he was unable to discern. As ‘Oudeis’, Odysseus, , the quintessential ‘two-eyed man’, gains this discernment, against the loss—during the years of his journey—of his clear and immediate awareness of his own Self. That he regains this awareness at the end of his ‘odyssey’ is made manifest in his being able then to see Athene undisguised, as Herself.

This ‘Odyssey’ could not have been undertaken by Odysseus the ‘natural’, once-born man, however many his ‘resources’. For him to be fit for it, he had to be ‘reborn’ in the holy city of Troy, to become himself a ‘Trojan’, aware of himself as descended from ‘Heaven’; which ‘rebirth’ was achieved in a manner of his own devising: through the construction, on the bare sand between Troy and the sea, of the Wooden Horse.

Why a horse? Why such a device of any shape? Though ‘normal’ to us now, as part of the ‘legend’, it was looked at askance, as unlikely and whimsical, by Classical commentators, (and other later readers of a rational bent) who regarded the War as ‘history’.

In Crete, the animal fashioned in wood by Daedalus for Pasiphae was a cow; that she might be mounted by the white bull of Poseidon, conceiving and giving birth to the Minotaur, half-man and half-bull.

But the Greeks, unlike the Pelasgians of Crete, had come in their waves (Aeolians, Ionians, Achaians) from the plains of the north, and their totemic animal was the horse. Indeed, in the image of the centaur, it was one with themselves, their instinctual aspect, in full four-footed harmony with the earth; and the chief of the centaurs, Cheiron, was the teacher, instructor in the Wisdom of the earth, of the principal ‘heroes’ of the era, Jason and Achilles notable among them.

In later times, as the balance of the culture tilted increasingly towards Light and rationality (Fire and Air, the upper body), against the ‘dangerous’ quality of ‘Eros’ (Earth and Water, the lower body), centaurs were demonized, debased to lecherous beasts, all virtue inhering in the two-footed Lapiths, sons of Heaven alone, (God as Alpha, transcendent). But at the time of the Trojan War, ‘God’ was seen equally as Omega, immanent, in every particle of the ever-changing, flowering and seeding, ‘outer world’.

To know ‘God’ in this aspect was to be ‘reborn’ in harmony with one’s instinctual self; of which the horse was the symbol, and the Wooden Horse its ritualistic, analogical enactment. It was the ‘womb’, drawn within the body of the Holy City, out of which the Greek warriors were reborn as ‘Trojans’; but Trojans born originally in the Outer World, whose ways they knew in their bones, and so could venture there, and carry the virtue of the City there, as Trojans born in Troy, knowing only that nodal point in creation, were never able—nor indeed willing—to do.

[In the Judeo-Christian Heaven, only Lucifer was willing, and able, to bear the Light of the One into the darkness of Chaos, that forms might there be created which in the fullness of time might be reassumed into the One in their transcendent essence, expressed at its highest in music (but all ‘artistic expression’ is a returning to the One of the multitudinous forms of the Many)].


Odysseus, then, having been ‘reborn in Troy’, and having ‘entempled’ within his soul the spirit of the Palladium (and so gained Athene as his guide and protectress), sails into the ‘outer world’, gathering there its manifold experience without, as his companions are, becoming enslaved to it. In blinding ‘Polyphemus’, he suppresses his own instinctual awareness, in order that he may ‘see’, discern and conceive the outer world, ‘create’ it within himself as the heir to Prometheus and Jason, the third emanation of the Descending Microcosm. And of the three only he, by the grace of his ‘many resources’ and his constant awareness of the Palladium within him, is able to live, at last, at rest in Outwardness; of which the evidence is that he is reunited with Penelope, the mask for the goddess ever weaving and unweaving the ‘outer world’.


But this rest at the furthest mark on the outward journey of the Microcosm is but the moment at the end of every inbreath, the moment at every sunrise when the eagle descends to the Caucasus to feed on the multitudinous dream-shapes which have evolved in the Night in Prometheus’ liver. At this moment, the beginning of the outbreath, the awareness of our ‘crucifixion’, our alienation in ‘outwardness’, causes us [like the prodigal son in the pigsty] to search how we may find our way back into the One. To rediscover our ‘face before we were born’. The Palladium, or whatever other symbolic image may adorn the temple, is an outward guide [if the fountain is still ‘overflowing’ in the temple, the ‘cistern’ that contains it]; the inner guide is the Hero within ourelves (in the tradition within which we live our outward lives) who sets out on the road of return into the One, shedding, like Prometheus (and, mutatis mutandis, as painfully) all the dream-shapes, the exfoliate world he has himself created.

In ‘Olympianism’, this Hero is Heracles. (‘Historically’, according to some commentators, he lived before ‘the Trojan war’, though born in Thebes, which was built after Jason returned from Colchis; but time is not the master of mythic truth, but its servant. ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’) In ‘Heracles’, through interiorizing his Twelve Labours, everyman may be reborn on ‘immortal Olympus’, and the life-cycle, which is the Night and Day of one whole breath, be complete.


Who, then, was Heracles?

His name is said to mean: ‘the glory of Hera’; which has struck many commentators as odd, as he is the illegitimate son of Zeus by Alcmene, a mortal woman, wife to Amphytrion, exiled in Thebes; and is said to be, not surprisingly, the ‘enemy’ of the jealous Hera.

The ‘naturalistic’ story of Heracles’ birth tells us that Alcmene is a virgin when Zeus comes to her, because she will not sleep with Amphytrion until the deaths of her eight brothers have been avenged. Amphytrion, with an army provided by King Creon of Thebes, achieves this task; but while he is away, Zeus, impersonating him, comes to Alcmene, assures her that her brothers are avenged, and sleeps with her; of which mating Heracles is born; and a day later, his twin, Iphicles—said to be the son of Amphytrion.

According to Hesiod, this was the last time that Zeus slept with a mortal woman, and that his motive was not mere lust, but ‘to beget one to defend against destruction gods and men who eat bread’.

What ‘destruction’? What is the danger?

Heracles’ name itself tells us: his ‘glorification of Hera’ was the restoration of the awareness in the unendingly exfoliate ‘outer world’—epitomized by ‘Hera’—of the everliving One; enabling mankind to see and to know that the One inheres as wholly in her, as ‘God Immanent’, as it does in ‘Zeus’, as ‘God Transcendent’. In Omega as in Alpha.

[In the ‘pigsty’ as in the prodigal’s ‘father’s house’; the sense of which, like all mankind ‘lost in Adam’, the prodigal had lost.]

In drawing Hera, the image of the ‘outer world’ [‘Eve’ in the Christian tradition], within his own evolved nature, into the Light, Heracles ‘glorifies’ her [as does Christ bearing Mary—the entempled Eve—in images of the Assumption]. But he is also her ‘antagonist’, because her outer will, like that of everyman every day, is not towards ‘inwardness’, but towards her own self-expression; which resists [like a Hindu rakshasa, and the knights not of the Round Table who lock themselves angrily into their own castles] any kind of ‘surrender’ of Herself. This will is expressed in the ‘natural monsters’, the children of Gaia (Earth) without the participation of Ouranos (Heaven), whom it is the duty of Heracles to overcome. In doing so he draws their symbolic qualities, their ‘virtues’, into himself; so that even the Apples of the Hesperides and Cerberus are at last within his grasp, and only his ‘crucifixion’ by fire remains to be endured, that he may bear Hera, figuring the whole ‘outer’ world, within himself into ‘Heaven’, figured as the abode of the gods on Mt. Olympus.

It is not the will of Zeus, in siring him, that Heracles shall have this role. Nor indeed the name ‘Heracles’. His birth name was ‘Alcaeus’, and it was Zeus’ will that he should become a great king in and of the ‘outer world’ [as was the will of the royal father of Sakyamuni, destined to become the Buddha; and the Jews for their Messiah]. In this he was thwarted by Hera—guided by her own ‘inner will’—who drew Heracles, against his own earthly desires, to undertake the Labours which ultimately ‘glorified’ her.


In his cradle, it is said, Heracles strangled two serpents which Hera had sent to kill him; so presaging his career as the ‘stiller’ of the unending pulsation of the exfoliate world [of which serpents, like that nailed to the Rosicrucian cross, are ever the emblem].

The first stage of this career, however, is (as it must be in all of us) the formative growth of his ego. In which (as ‘Alcaeus’) he performs great physical deeds, accompanied by excesses of cruelty and brutality; until ‘driven mad by Hera’—which is to say, his loss of Himself, causing the surrender of his own nature into the maelstrom of the proliferating world—he kills his own and Iphicles’ sons. This is his ‘pigsty’, whence he must find his way ‘home’.

Recovering from his ‘madness’, he goes to Delphi for guidance—and renaming as ‘Heracles’—and from there is sent to Eurystheus, king of Tyrins (the kingdom intended by Zeus for Heracles himself) to perform twelve ‘labours’, trials through which, in overcoming them, he will expiate his crime. Surrendering his pride to accept this punishment (at the hands of ‘an inferior man’) is his first trial; which he passes, albeit with some baulking.


The Twelve Labours, which now begin, are not, though on the surface they appear to be (being enmeshed in the culture of the time (as of most times) which loved and lauded ‘heroes’ who went about taking ‘wives’ and triumphing over their ‘enemies’), a mere accidental handful of ‘typical’ encounters with ‘the dragon’, the ‘monstrous’ powers of untamed Nature. Each one marks an important stage in Heracles’ inner growth. (That even the earlier commentators seem unaware of this spiritual core of the Labours is a melancholy indication of the loss in the society of the time of any real sense of ‘God’ being anything more than many projections of their daily fears and desires.)

All ‘unsanctified beings’ of the natural world must be encountered and taken into himself by the Hero—of which Heracles is here the prototype—which ‘destroys’ them as objective entities. [So, in their time and culture, will it be with the egocentric knights in the realm of King Arthur who are overcome (in a world now not of physical monsters, who can behave only in accord with their nature, but of men who have regressed to this state), and ‘healed’ through battle with and surrender to ‘knights of the Round Table’, whose role is to carry the spirit of the One into the ‘forest’ of the Many.]


Heracles’ first Labour is to kill and flay ‘the Nemean Lion’. This ‘monster’, which ‘lives on Mt. Tretus and has been ravaging the countryside round about’, is said, by Hesiod and others, to have been born to the monsters Typhon and Echidne (he the child of ‘angered’ Mother Earth’, she of emblems of the ocean), and his siblings were many, including both the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece and that guarding the Golden Apples at the two extremes of the Hellenic world.

The lion is impervious to all weapons, so Heracles strangles it, and flays it with its own razor-sharp claws. Its pelt becomes his armour, its head his helmet; which, being symbolically the union of the sun and of living earth, will shelter him in all his trials to come. And he himself, in ‘becoming the lion’, is so beyond normal manhood that Eurystheus is terrified of him and forbids him ever again to enter Tyrins, but to display the fruits of his Labours outside the gates. For Heracles has entered the ‘land of dragons’ in the only way one can, by becoming one of them himself. But, also, knowing in his soul that ‘Zeus is his father’, that he is himself ‘the One’ as he comes to know himself also as ‘the Many’, he gradually—through the accomplishment of his Labours—attunes his own wild outward nature to the inner stillness of the Self.


His second Labour is to slay the Lernaean Hydra (she too an offspring of Typhon and Echidne), a ‘serpent monster’ of the watery aspect of primal manifestation, as the Nemean Lion is that of fire; and Heracles uses that fiery force which he has acquired, to slay the Hydra by searing shut its eight mortal heads. He then severs the central immortal head and buries it under an enormous rock, ‘stilling’ its energy in the earth. [In like manner, the stone at the centre of the Temple in Jerusalem presses down upon—stilling—the black waters of Chaos beneath.]

Heracles then dips his arrows in the gall of the Hydra, so that they become fatally poisonous in any wound they make; and in the cyclical irony of many a myth, eventually cause his own ‘crucifixion’, from which only the fiery consumption of his body can release him.

But before this release (into full awareness of Himself, figured as the ‘heaven’ of Mount Olympus), though after the completion of his Labours, he closes the ‘door’ through which ‘god’ entered time and space by killing with one of the arrows the eagle (also an offspring of Typhon and Echidne) which has been feeding on Prometheus’ liver; and so, as he himself does, the Era ceases.

[To begin, of course, again, and again; as it does, in Hindu mythology, at each moment that Vishnu, resting on the body of the world serpent on the waters of potentiality, opens his eyes.]


So. Having ‘overcome’, and thus gathered into his own being, the energy of Fire and of Water, Heracles’ is told by the King of Tyrins to bring back alive the Ceryneian hind, and following that bring back, again alive, the Erymantheian boar. Both of which ‘labours’ he achieves.

Why ‘alive’?

Because, unlike the ‘outer’ irreconcilable elements of fire and water, which the Hero must take into himself but which, in his doing so, alienate him from his own ‘daily world’, the hind and the boar are emblematic of the ‘inner’ elements of Air and Earth [the bread of Christian Holy Communion, as the wine is the fire and water; deemed by the Roman Catholic priesthood to be too dangerous to be given to the laity]; and so are the living bond between himself and the world he is striving to ‘redeem’.

The ‘hind’ is particularly interesting, as she is antlered like a stag, indicating her androgyny, appropriate to the evolved sage. [Druid priests, we are told by the Bede, rode only mares, symbolic of their spiritual androgyny.] Of this state we may have an image on the Gundestrup cauldron, in the antlered man sitting cross-legged, as if in deep meditation; his antlers are seven-tined, in accord with the lines in the poem of the Welsh bard Taliesin: ‘I am a stag of seven tines’; seven being the number of achievement. Heracles’ capture of the hind is indicative of ‘wisdom’ beginning to flow in him.

The ‘boar’ of the fourth Labour must also be brought back alive; which appears odd on the naturalistic surface. But as the hind is, as the element of air, the bearer of the energy of fire, so muted that it may be borne in the ‘middle world’, the boar is the emblem of earth, through which the energy of water may be ‘tamed’ and nourish the world. And it is captured (somewhat drolly, the better to indicate that naturalism is not our best guide to understanding the Labours), by being driven into a snowdrift, emblematic of the ‘stilling’ of the wild energy of water, enabling Heracles to gather the boar into a net and carry it back to Tyrins.


Having taken into himself the energies of the four elements, it is the ‘work’ of the Hero to order them into an organic pattern which is ‘human’. [As Edward Case says, in his explication of the Tarot, we have been given a ‘wild body’ by nature, which it is our duty to shape to harmonious form.]

This ‘shaping’, in the Heraclean Labours, may be divided into halves. The first six of them constitute his Descent, as Zeus-incarnate, into the physical world, mastering first each element in turn. Fire and Water, the Lion and the Hydra, are ‘suppressed’, but their essence is used in his taking the pelt and the gall as ‘shield and spear’ for his quest. Air and Earth are the elements he lives in, so they must be brought to Tyrins alive.

Then he must ‘order’ the elements he has mastered. First the Earth, infused with Water; which he achieves in the ‘cleansing of the Augeian stables’, so that his lower body of ‘earth and water’ shall be cleansed and, mirroring this, the whole land without shall become fruitful.

And then he must ‘shape’ his upper body of Fire and Air; which he achieves in the dense and resonant Labour of the Stymphalian birds.

These birds were said to be ‘brazen-beaked, brazen-clawed, brazen-winged man-eating birds, sacred to Ares’. They live in a marshland where it is not possible to approach them either afoot or in a boat. So, guided by Athene, Heracles climbs to a spur on nearby Mt. Cyllene, said to be the birthplace of Hermes and therefore scared to him. There, within the ‘aura’ of Hermes, Heracles shakes a brazen rattle made by Hephaestos, which so startles the birds that they fly into the air. Heracles shoots and kills a certain number of them; the rest fly away to the island of Ares in the Black Sea, their original home.

What are we to make of this?

First it should be noted that Hermes is the inventive designer and maker of many things ‘valuable to gods and men’. Chief among these is the invention of the alphabet [attributed to Odin in Norse myth, both of them being patrons of the same day of the week]; and it is this which appears, in variant form, to be happening in this Labour.

Hermes is also a phallic god, as his many herms about the land bear witness; and the epithet ‘stymphalian’ is an evident equivalent of ‘ithyphallic’, of which their ibis-like beaks are indicative. But these beaks also suggest the cuneiform shapes out of which early middle-eastern and Mediterranean letters were made [as Odin’s were shaped from ‘twigs fallen from Yggdrasil, the world tree’]. Those birds which Heracles kills are emblematic of his enabling the physical world—tamed in his capture of the Boar—to return its own ‘Flesh’ back into the ‘Word’, so that it may know itself; and that which was taken from the One throughout the aeon, beginning with Prometheus’ ‘theft of the Fire’, be restored to the One.

At the same time, in accord with Hermes’ phallic aspect, his killing of the birds is emblematic of his transmuting the ‘natural’ energy of water and earth into the air and fire of his upper body; which is to say that he interiorizes his sexual energy, drawing it upwards in his body to his ‘sternum’ or breastbone [a state visible in images of Christ in Greek Christian iconography], which it will breach at the moment of his ‘crucifixion’, tearing ‘the veil of the temple’, his own body.

So does the the Microcosm turn from its ‘exploration’ of the Outward World back towards the One whence it came. [So does Lucifer-Adam-Eve turn and become Mary-Jesus Christ.] Illustrative of the stages of this ‘return’ are the six remaining Labours of Heracles; which are, on the outward plane, firstly a gathering of the essential qualities of the Hellenic world from its ‘four corners’ to its centre at Tyrins-Mycenae, and the assimilation of them into Heracles’ own mind and heart.

The first of these tasks, and the seventh of the Labours, takes Heracles to the South, to Crete, where he is to capture a bull which is ravaging the island, and bring it to Tyrins; where Eurystheus dedicates it to Hera and sets it free to wander at will. And it does, and peacefully, emblemizing the energy of the Taurian era being brought into that of Aries, to which—like all religious modes in their death-throes—it would not yield in its Cretan heartland.

The eighth Labour, to be achieved in the North, is to bring ‘flesh-eating mares’ (female to the bull’s male) to Tyrins-Mycenae, where they too are dedicated to Hera, and cease to eat flesh, symbolizing, like the bull, the interiorizing and pacification of Heracles’ own angry excursions (though he remains, on the surface, the ‘brave, warlike’ hero, beloved of the Doric Greeks, for whom physical rivalry and self-styled ‘nobility’ were the bedrock of the culture).

The ninth Labour, the securing of the girdle of Queen Hippolyte of the Amazons (because it is desired by Admete, the daughter of King Eurystheus) takes place in Anatolia, in the eastern quarter of ‘the known world’. It has been much re-written and edited by Classical commentators, so that its inner resonant meaning is deeply veiled, to the extent that the virtue of the girdle—unlike that of Aphrodite—is not told.

Hippolyte is, at first, willing to give the girdle to Heracles; but Hera (in her usual role of ‘antagonist to Heracles’, and emblematic of the ‘dark’ aspect of the Other, which resists ‘surrender’ to the One, fearing annihilation) prevents this. So a battle ensues, in which Heracles kills Hippolyte; which was probably a satisfactory mode of achievement for the ‘masculine’ culture of the Dorians [the same cultural mode which saw Alexander’s severing of the Gordian Knot as a fit solution to the infinite complexity of ‘Asia’]; but it was not the inner teaching of the Labour, in which it is of the essence that the girdle should be surrendered, so that whatever its virtue may be shall pass to its new wearer. [Similarly, Mary’s saying ‘Behold the Handmaid of the Lord’ is the surrender of herself, as ‘Eve’, the whole manifest world, to the One Self.]

Hippolyte emblemizes the ‘outer world’, and Admete (whose name is said to be a title of Athene) the structured cosmos (of the time and place) at its centre; to whom, in surrendering the girdle, Hippolyte offers the dominion of the underlying ‘wild waters’, whence she, as a mask of Aphrodite, has arisen. And in surrendering it, unbinding herself, she restores her own flowing oneness with the waters, reverting to her primal dragon form. And it would be in seeing her thus, as the unassimilable ‘other’—Hera unredeemed, ‘unglorified’—that Heracles, not understanding her necessity, would slay her. But in bringing her girdle to Admete, unknowing the meaning of his act, he brings the energy of the waters, and ‘dominion’ of the eastern realm of the world to Tyrins-Mycenae, and assimilates the strength of its womanly Love to himself.

[A similar ‘event’ takes place in the legends of the Holy Grail, when Percival’s virgin sister allows her blood to be taken, so that the Queen of the World may be healed. Here again, the Hero, Galahad, not understanding the teaching (illustrated in the cards of the Tarot) that the waters underflowing the world must pass through the (virgin) High Priestess to the sunlit and fruitful earth of the Empress, suspects, and tries to punish, ‘evil’.]


Only the quality of the western quarter of the Hellenic world now remains to be brought to the Centre; and the structure of the Labour suggests that the ‘quality’ of the West is ‘male’, as that of the East was ‘female, as ‘Geryon, the king of Tartessus in Spain’, who has three heads and bodies, and six hands, and is ‘the strongest man alive’, is Heracles’ antagonist. His cattle, which are ‘of marvellous beauty’, must be taken from him by stealth.

On his way to Geryon’s island of Erythia, Heracles erects two pillars at the straits of Gibraltar, and then sails through them in a golden flower, a gift from Helios; so sailing out of the everyday world (as did Jason through the straits of the Bosporos) into the ‘magic’ world, where nothing is as it seems, where everything is also its opposite. That this world is dangerous to the ego is emblemized by the fragile (though golden) vessel which carries him over the ‘untamed’ waters; into which he must venture, yet not be swallowed up in them (they being the realm of Cronos—his own grandfather—the ‘Night’ before Zeus’ ‘Day’).

Slaying Geryon and his monstrous helpers, Heracles brings the cattle safely to Tyrins, where they too are sacrificed to Hera. (‘Of thine own do we give thee.’)


Having gathered the ‘virtues and strengths’ of the ‘four quarters’ to the Centre of the ‘world’, and into himself, Heracles must now embark on two further tasks, in places not geographically defined, and which in their essence are ‘above’ and ‘below’.

For his eleventh Labour he must bring back (three is the usual number) apples from the tree (a wedding gift of Mother Earth to Hera),which grows in the Garden of the Hesperides, and which is guarded by the Titan Atlas, their father, and brother to Prometheus.

But where is this Garden? No one can tell Heracles; his quest has passed beyond the bounds of the known, and knowable, world. Like the Grail Castle in its time, the Garden of the Hesperides is within ourselves.

In order to reach it, Heracles searches out Nereus, ‘the Old Man of the Sea’, whom he seizes and holds onto, changing with him into a multitude physical bodies, representing all the possibilities of Becoming. When these at last are exhausted, and Heracles is still holding Nereus fast in his arms, they both rest in the peace of Being. Of which the Garden of the Hesperides is the emblem; and for the first time Heracles ‘journey’ is not described.

Nonetheless, the situation of the Garden is described, as standing by the very western extreme of the Hellenic world, where Atlas is holding up the heavens. For the ‘narrative cycle’ of the Hellenic Day is drawing to its close; having begun with the Causasian sunrise of Prometheus at the furthest eastern reach of the Hellenic world, it ends with the sun setting into the Atlantic ocean, the ‘ocean of Atlas’, representing the dissolution of all forms. Indicative of this ‘conclusion’ is Heracles’ killing of the eagle which has been feeding on Prometheus’ liver, allowing him to be reconciled to Zeus; which is to say that ‘Zeus’ draws his outer ‘Promethean’ aspect back into Himself, so withdrawing Himself from Manifestation. And the eagle is not killed, Heracles would not have been able to kill it, until the completion of his Labours has made him not merely Zeus’ ‘son’, but ‘Zeus’ himself on earth. [So did ‘Jesus’ become the ‘Anointed’, Christos.]

Having been told by Nereus that he must not take the apples himself, but let Atlas take them, Heracles has to assume Atlas’s burden of ‘holding up the heavens’ while Atlas fetches them; so becoming, for those moments ‘crucified’, experiencing Atlas’s immemorial pain; becoming ‘Atlas’.

But he is not like Atlas, a Titan with a function to perform, he is a ‘man’, born of Zeus, but also of woman; and so he inherits the ‘two-eyed’ virtues of which Odysseus [and in other cultures, the coyote and the raven] has become the emblem: he uses a ‘trick’ to persuade Atlas to reassume his burden; for it is his ‘quest’ to know in his bones the pain of the role of Atlas in holding Heaven and Earth together as he holds them apart; but not to assume the role himself, for it is his work to bring that knowledge (to be learnt only in experience) to ‘Zeus’, that He may ‘know’ what and how it is to be in the ‘world’ which He (through his Promethean emanation) has allowed to ‘happen’.

And so, receiving the apples from Atlas, Heracles brings them to Eurystheus, who gives them to Athene, who restores the to Hera. And there remains only the Twelfth Labour, which is to bring the dog Cerberus out of Hades.

This task [which in Christian commentaries is called the ‘Harrowing of Hell’] requires him, now that he has brought into himself the whole manifest world, from its furthest extremities, to enter into its dark innerness (which is his own) and bring its emblem, Cerberus, up into the light of the (conscious) world, so making ‘Tartarus’ as sweet as the spring earth, where Persephone, whose realm ultimately it is, will flower; she being the ‘dragon of dragons’ and he her bridegroom. [So St. George and his maiden-dragon.] He does not draw her up, of course; that would be the end of the ‘world’, equivalent to the drawing of Apollo down out of ‘heaven’. Both ‘Apollo’ and ‘Persephone’ mean ‘the destroyer’, for in ‘entering into them’, taking them into himself, the Hero discovers that the world as he has seen it, conceived it, has no more reality than a burst soap bubble.

So Heracles takes only Cerberus, its emblem, from Tartarus to the ‘centre of the middle world’ at Tyrins-Mycenae. But even this ’emblem’ may not long remain there, for ‘the world’ cannot long bear even the emblematic coincidence of the One and the Many. [So was the time of Christ-on-Earth after His resurrection only forty days of Stillness.] So Heracles takes Cerberus back to Tartarus, restoring the veil between it and the Day-world.

But in himself the veil is not restored, so that he is in a state [like Christ] of ‘crucifixion’, an experience—unbearable in this world—of the coincidence of opposites. This state is given the anecdotal cover of the garment soaked in the poisoned blood of Nessus the centaur (poisoned—in ironic justice—by Heracles’ own arrow, dipped in the gall of the Hydra), which causes him such physical agony that he lies on a pile of branches and begs someone to light them, so his body may be consumed and his spirit [like Christ’s at the Ascension] borne to ‘Heaven’, figured as Mt. Olympus.

So the Cycle, which began with Prometheus’ Theft of the Fire’, the outpouring of the One into the Many, ends with the Fire restoring—in the emblem of Heracles—the Many into the One.


In later redactions of the legend of Heracles, it is said that before he was able to descend to Tartarus, he had to take part in the Eleusinian Mysteries (appropriately, as they are dedicated to Demeter, the mother of Persephone, and recurrent ‘dying’ and renewal of the flowering and fruiting earth); and that at these Mysteries, Eumolpus, the high priest, taught Heracles to sing, and to play on the lyre, Apollo’s instrument. So that the music that Apollo played in the creation of Troy, structuring, imbuing with spirit, the raw stone of Poseidon’s offering (the prime ‘matter’ of Becoming) is now, in Heracles, restored to Him.

The ‘meaning’ of our being in ‘this world’ may then be understood to be a delving into its material nature, and the returning of whatever infinitessimal part that may come to be ‘known’, experienced, to the One Self, as ‘music’; which is to say whatever breathes of the ‘experience’, being then only Breath itself.

Roger Maybank.

Mt.Tuam, Autumn Equinox, 2012.