Celtic Mythology is rich in symbolism of life death and transition. No wonder that Halloween or Samhain is a remainder of Celtic Mythology. This blog explores it’s origin, and how it still influences our lives.
Celtic mythology was an oral mythology. Stories that originated in tribes that inhibited Europe as early as the Iron age, between 500 BCE and 500 CE. This period also includes the LaTène period that Joseph Campbell wrote so eloquently about, for example in the book Occidental Mythology. According to Campbell, La Tene culture overthrew the earlier, more primitive bronze and stone age populations of Wales and Ireland during the fifth century B.c.
Since the Celtic world covered much of Europe, and mythology was transferred orally, there was an abundance of gods and goddesses. In the next paragraph we will explore the main points.
Celtic Mythology Central Motifs
Divination through THE spirits of the death
The Mindfunda Online Course Turning the Wheel of the Year will give you information about Banshee. A fairy that is a messenger between the world, the woman of the fairy mounds.
She is a messenger of death, but does not always need to be feared. When the Banshee sings her mournful cry, she is giving notice that one of its members will soon transcend to the spirit land says David Russel in his book about Irish Wonders.
Fertility of the land
At Imbolc the Goddess Brigid will steal the show and invite you to explore your life carefully. What traits do you want to preserve, which do you want to nurture? In the course Turning the Wheel of the Year you will be invited to explore the two sidedness of life.
Like every light also casts its darkness, in that darkness grow new things. It is the dark earth that has the nutrients that enable a flower to grow and to blossom.
The light returns steady and slowly. Your vitamin D levels will rise, your sleeping and dreaming will probably improve in this period of the year. It is time to sow the seeds of the love you plan on reaping in the future.
Changing of Seasons
As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell clearly stated: the mythology of King Arthur and Lancelot, two friends fighting for Guinevere is the fight of two seasons for the Queen of May.
In this season you are triggered to ask yourself about the love in your life. In what ways do you love and honour your soul? How much time do you devote at uncovering your “true Self”?
The circle of life, the seasons, the wheel of time. Or as Jung would call it: the symbol of Self. The last season of the Mindfunda course Turning the Wheel of the Year invites you to celebrate the light that now oh, so softly begins its return into the earth. The rise and fall, like a wheel. Where a wheel rides on the path of your life, it leaves its marks. You will be invited to explore boundaries you have set and boundaries that you have explored as well as ignored in your life.
Read more and register here. there is also a special offer that includes the Holy nights Dreaming. A special time for dreams between December 25 and January 6, that in ancient times was seen as the night that forecasted the year ahead.
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature”.
Grail and synchronicity
Several years ago I had a dream that ends with a voice-over telling me: “You belong to the court of Arthur“. I respond that Arthur is just a story.
I was wrong. The myth of King Arthur and the search for the grail is so much more.
Do you believe in synchronicity? When I requested a review copy of Robert Moss’s new book Sidewalk Oracles (a review is coming up, I am playing the games so I can walk the walk just as much as I talk the talk) something happened. Kim of New World Library asked me, “Would you also like a review copy of Romance of the Grail?” I gasped for breath; synchronicity did not just knock on my door, but kicked it in.
Years ago, after having the dream I mention above, I discovered that Arthur meant bear and bear was the totem animal of Robert Moss. The Bear is the oldest worshiped deity of the world, “So this is a bear god: the valley, and the river there , running by Lourdes, is called the River of the Bear (the Ourse). This is the God Arthur. I think I can make the point that Lake Geneva is therefore the source of the whole idea of King Arthur’s departure on a boat after his death to the Isle of the Golden Apple, the Isle of Avalon” (Romance of the Grail).
So I invited Robert Moss to give a workshop on Active Imagination in the Netherlands. And now his book about synchronicity guided me back to Arthur and the Grail
Romance of the Grail
Joseph Campbell coined the term monomyth. To quote Wikipedia: “..Monomyth refers to the theory that sees all mythic narratives as variations of a single great story. The theory is based on the observation that a common pattern exists beneath the narrative elements of most great myths, regardless of their origin or time of creation”.
That is an attractive idea isn’t it? The idea that we, members of the human race, are so very much alike in our needs, in our challenges and in our solutions, that the basic problems myths guide you through boil down to a couple of themes.
I want you to know that I find this a very work-able assumption even though it is criticized now. I also agree with the critics. Ellwood stated in 1999: “A tendency to think in generic terms of people, races … is undoubtedly the profoundest flaw in mythological thinking.” But putting that aside, I think the contribution Joseph Campbell made to mythology is phenomenal. He brought mythology to you and me, into our simple lives and made us feel the energy of the Gods and Goddesses.
The book is composed by Evans Lansing Smith who spent many hours reading and listening to lectures of Campbell and who attended a lot of his travels and workshops. By reading the notes of Campbell Lansing Smith was able to present the wealth of knowledge that Joseph Campbell left behind. The work of a man who used to read 4 hours every day for nine years with the sole purpose of educating himself. Reading this book will let you reap the fruits of his work on what is called “The most important mythology for the Western World”.
Romance of the Grail discovery #1
Editor Evans Lansing Smith, chair of the mythological studies at the Pacifica Graduate Institute, has composed a book that will elicit several aha’s.
He starts out with painting the background of Europe through the centuries. His main point is that there simply was no European culture. Europe was invaded by Indo-European tribes since the Neolithic times, 10,200–8,800 BC. and Roman Emperor Theodosius I, Roman Emperor from AD 379 to AD 395, issued decrees that made Christianity the official religion of his Empire. Europe became subjected to a religion that had its origin in Jerusalem. The old pagan traditions were destroyed. The European (Western) emphasis on the individual shifted towards the Eastern sense of community spirit.
“So this totally alien point of view was imposed on Europe. Europe had perfectly good religions and mythologies and this other thing was brought on top of it.”
The Christian church believes that we are born in sin. Jesus Christ can save us but the only way to come close to Christ is to get the sacraments from a priest. And a priest was able to behave in a rather un-Christian manner, without being disciplined by the church. Of course not all of them, but many did. The Arthurian Romance is a way of dealing with this controversy.
Joseph Campbell’s never before published master’s thesis “The Dolorous Stroke” in the Appendix of this book provides clear insight into the genius of Campbell’s mind. His analysis of the similarities and differences in Grail stories with great detail. The Fisher King, based on Jesus his statement: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” is wounded by a lance at the time of a feast. So the King is wounded. Worse than that: he is made sterile. He can not reproduce anymore. And he is closely related to his land: his land also becomes infertile. This fertility God is wounded. The church is too much about following rules and ignores the spiritual side of the sun. The connection of people with their own sense of spirituality was cut off. The King was wounded.
The solution was to be found in love. Joseph Campbell’s Romance of the Grail distinguishes between erotic passion and agape: spiritual love. The romance that the Grail perspective prescribes is a combination of love that is born in the eyes as well as in the heart. Parzival as described in Wolfram van Eschenbach (German knight and poet who inspired Wagner’s Parsifal and who uses the name Parzifal spelled with a z), is a happily married man who enters the Castle, meets the Fisher King but does not ask the question: Who serves the Grail?
I just told you that love was the answer.
No here is a happily married man, married out of love which was quite uncommon in these days. He is in the castle, with the wounded King. So all the variables are present but no catharsis. No solution. He fails to ask the question that could heal the King. Why?
Blame it on the mother? He was told not to ask too many questions. He did not want to come across as impolite. So he dismissed the question in his heart. Growing up you need to decide if you are going to head your parental advice or if you are going your own way. And make some mistakes along the path. Because the mother of Parsifal wanted him to be polite.
Again here is a mythical notion to let rules be rules. To follow the heart. Campbell said “Follow your Bliss” for a reason. Don’t we all know that moment when we follow conventions while our heart screams out something different?
Romance of the Grail discovery #2
An important theme in the Grail stories is the theme of enchantment versus disenchantment. Sometimes in dreams you are the only one who sees flowers. Sometimes in waking live you are the only one who sees the beauty of a person, of an event or of a tragedy.
“Everything needed is already there only it is not being seen. And what the hero is to do is to clarify the situation”
I remember a few months before my mothers’ death I had a dream of her sitting with a sister of mine at the couch in the palace of the Bishop. I saw flowers everywhere. All the guests where talking, laughing and eating and I seemed to be the only one aware of those flowers. I followed the trail outside. In the hallway there was an undertaker. I felt so much grief in my heart when I handed over the flowers to him (a lot of the flowers lay on the floor at his feet). I asked him to take good care of my mother. Waking up I realized that I could only survive the loss of my last parent by seeing and honoring the flowers embedded in the situation.
There is enchantment in the descent to the underworld to meet the dark aspects of your soul. To become aware that deep in the darkness is the soil that nourishes the flowers. And to realize that not everybody will appreciate them. That there are people who do not even see them. What was the last time when you saw flowers where no one else noticed them?
Romance of the Grail discovery #3
Almost all of us know the Grail as the story of the love between Guinevere and Lancelot. In our time this theme is relevant and the most handsome actors and actresses depict the honorable fight between lust, love and honor. In 1995, the film First night depicted Richard Gere as the attractive Lancelot who tried to walk away from temptation. Romance of the Grail explains how a story about the ancient Celtic fertility gods was reshaped in a story about adultery.
“After Renaissance, a god wounded by a lance, whose injury entails the blight of his land and the misery of his people, revived by a magic question or salve of blood was incredible. Therefore it was not surprising that Tennyson should have substituted a sin of adultery: the sin of Guinevere and Lancelot”.
In the middle ages in the story Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette written by Chrétien de Troyes this love mentioned for the first time.
Guinevere was abducted by a Lord that belongs to the underworld. In ancient times ladies were in the habit of being abducted, waiting for a knight to come and rescue them. While Arthur stays at Camelot, Lancelot climbs on his horse and goes out for his love. He drives so hard that two horses die. He hesitates for three steps if he would take a cart driven by a churl. He would be faster in the tower were Guinevere is kept prison but a card is used for people who ride in the cart are being taken to be hanged or punished in some way. He hesitates for three steps but takes the cart.
Next trial is what we know as the Perilous bed.
“This is the masculine experience of the feminine temperament: that it doesn’t quite make sense, but there it is. That’s the way it’s shifting this time, that’s the way it’s going that time. The trial is to hold on, be patient and don’t try to solve it. Just endure it, and then all the boons of beautiful womanhood will be yours.” [Transformations of Myth Through Time]. Once a hero has integrated the anima or the feminine side of his character there is another challenge. The bridge of Swords.
The bridge of swords is the Razor’s edge as Somerset Maugham described it in his novel.
If you follow your own path you can be swept away by your own passion. As Jeffrey Leach puts it on Amazon in a review: “The Razor’s Edge” really has a simple message. It asks us to reflect on how we lead our lives. Do we follow the masses or seek inner fulfillment? Is it right or wrong to drop out of society and follow our inner selves? Maugham makes us ponder these questions as he introduces us to his characters.
Finally our hero frees Guinevere out of the tower but she is as cold as ice. Why? Because he hashesitated for three steps. His ego for that moment was a few seconds stronger as the passion in his heart. No mercy for the brain. Ask yourself: when was the last time I acted out of love, without thinking? At this moment whose path do you follow? Your own? And if so: that is still no guarantee for fulfillment: you have to walk on a sharp edge to avoid getting cut. It is almost impossible, but it is worth it.
Romance of the Grail conclusion
I started this blog by telling you that being offered Romance of the Grail for a review was a moment of synchronicity. So while reading it and making notes I tried to look at why Arthur, the Bear, came knocking again. In four years I have made certain steps to follow my passion about mythology, spirituality and dreaming. And what everybody told me: that it does not pay the bills, unfortunately is true. Still I feel rewarded in so many other aspect: the people I meet, the books I read, controlling my own time.
I like the way the Romance of the Grail is crafted. I like the fact that The Dolorous Stroke is an appendix of this book. I feel so much more informed about the symbols and the themes that prevail in the Arthur myth that I can only advice you to read the book and let the magic work for you. As Joseph Campbell explains:
“We have recognized at the heart of the Celtic mythology, a belief in the might of magic”. I think we should all shelter and nurture this believe.
“Can the Grail be here? You range through the house seeking, only to return to the great sky-lit space. She says, “Be still, and open. Stand like a tree, open like a flower, like a chalice, at your crown.” You remember the crown you once wore and you let that go, and open. “Drink the light.” You drink deep, and something opens deeper in you in the cavity of the heart, a cup is filing with light. Light streams from the heart, pure waterfall, and you know you have found the Grail, in the one place it can be found“.