This is the first blog in a series of blogs exploring the symbolic, spiritual and archetypal aspects and meanings of the sacred sword Excalibur and the scabbard in which it rests ready for battle. How the sword is used either for noble purpose or callous disregard will perhaps give us a greater awareness of our own energetic forces where ever they lie—in the personal, political or spiritual arenas.
Two primary, and from all appearances, competing stories of how Arthur came to possess Excalibur have been passed down though legend. The first of which we are most familiar is the pulling of the sword from the stone or an anvil set on a stone; the second, less fanciful and more in line with Celtic rather than Classical mythology, is the gifting of the sword to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. The disneyfied version shows Arthur achieving his kingship and all the authority that goes with it by simply drawing the sword from the stone. However, the story of King Arthur and his predestined rise to kingship of legendary status is steeped in more complex and multifaceted Celtic mythology. Although both stories exemplify Celtic tradition to a greater or lesser degree, they must be seen together as contiguous parts of Arthurian legend to gain a better historical and symbolic understanding of the customs, traditions and spirituality underlying Celtic mythology.
The drawing of the sword out of the stone is traditionally seen as a test for kingship—one of many Celtic tests for ones suitability to be declared king. Only the rightful heir to this position, which conferred heroic and godlike attributes, could perform this deed. As the heroic-god king, Arthur’s authority comes not from his legal position per se but from the way he used his position. He is characterized as excelling above “all other princes in courtesy, prowess, valor and generosity” (Markale, 1994, p 141). Indeed, his sense of nobility and chivalry set the tone of his court, at least before jealousy and betrayal took hold. However, in reality according to Celtic traditions , kings were also bound by a myriad of so-called geisa, taboos or prohibitions determining how the king must carry out his duties. Transgression of a geisa usually rendered the king impotent, destitute or dead and his kingdom turned to a wasteland. Kings were often no more than tribal chieftains of a group of related families or king of a province. Continue reading