We certainly hadn’t intended to talk about Arthur, let alone Merlin when we pencilled in Penrith as the starting point for our weekend workshop.
But the land has a way of communicating it’s own ‘sweet terror’ and when we came across a Welsh Triad referencing Penrith or ‘Pen Rhionydd’ as one of the ‘Seats’ of the legendary British King the ‘cogs’ had inevitably started to turn…
Our June workshop in Dorset had thrown up some poignant ideas with regard to how the ‘ancients’ might be regarding their kinship with Mother Earth…
The constellation we now know as Orion, with its mid-summer rising over the Cerne Abbas hill figure may well have gone under a different name in former times and we still have Arthur’s Wain or ‘Waggon’ illuminating a course across the night sky, better known today as The Plough…
Since our research for the very first literary outing we penned together we had been aware of a plethora of local legends that predated our national Dragon Slayer, George, himself a late medieval replacement for Edmund, as Patron Saint of our Blessed Isles and all relating a similiar tale of sinuous earth energies ‘brought to book’.
The Lambton Wyrm, The Wantley Wurm, and The Laidley Worm, which also featured in our September workshop, to name but a few that we had, only recently, encountered.
Could the notions of authentic, living-land directed, leadership and ‘snake charming’ be linked in some esoteric way we had singularly failed to spot?
Our thoughts came home to Penrith with a jolt of recognition.
The ‘Spirit of Place’ had certainly been operative all those years ago when first it had impinged upon our consciousness and insisted we cross the busy main road to say, ‘Hello’…
And was that any different from being dragged to Dragon Hill at Uffington, or being repeatedly accosted by Glastonbury Tor, not to mention our Ambush by Stone at Long Meg? etc.
… When Brother-Warrior entered the chamber of the princess, because of his Cloak-of-Darkness, she thought she was enjoying converse and congress with a spirit.
So too, did all her hand-maids but before departing he took off his cloak and left them with the fleeting vision of a ‘Fairy Warrior’.
After Brother-Wizard and Brother-Warrior had left for the wooded isle, Brother-Smith wasted no time in fomenting the populace who were missing the usual round of the wondrous cow.
He walked to each home-stead in turn crying “no milk today, the King of Castle-Hill has stolen your cow.”
In this way they were left in no doubt as to who was to blame for their loss of sustenance and the King of Castle-Hill spent the next nine months touring his lands putting down local revolt after local revolt without the use of his baleful eye.
The king had no opportunity to visit his daughter, as promised, and indeed, as few knew of the islands existence and the magic halter and the wondrous cow were still kept there, it would have been foolish for him to do so.
“It is time to collect the magic halter,” said Brother-Wizard to Brother- Warrior after a time.
Together, the two of them, again, set out for the wooded isle in the coracle and once they reached the tower and the nine home-steads they collected not only the magic halter, which the king’s daughter freely gave to them but also the ‘fruits’ of Brother-Warrior’s last visit.
The nine children of the hand-maids were given together in a blanket fastened by a thorn which Brother-Wizard carried on his back whilst the grandson of the king was kept in a separate cloth which Brother-Warrior kept slung upon his breast.
As they made their way back to the mainland the thorn holding the blanket broke and the nine children of the hand-maids fell into the sea and were turned into seals, by Brother-Wizard, so they would not drown.
Brother-Warrior brought the grandson of the king safely ashore…
“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“Bebop died. I stayed with him. Said thank you.” He choked again. “Said goodbye. It was really emotional.” The voice managed to sound both surprised and a tad embarrassed, even through the evident emotion, and well he might. “…and then Arthur died too…”. There was a silent pause. I am fairly certain I heard a sniff. Bebop was his horse… not a flesh-and-blood horse, mind you, but part of a computer game my son had been playing for some time. Arthur was the character as which he had been playing. Oddly, I didn’t laugh. I could quite understand why he was feeling that way, even though, on the surface, it should have been funny. I have cried my way through too many books and films to laugh for such a reason.
The game, one of the latest generation, is graphically gorgeous. The wide landscape it portrays is beautifully done and very realistic. You can wander it at will, exploring the Wild West in its heyday as well as following the story through the game. He had shown me the scenery and I was impressed, not only with the artwork and animation, but with the attention to detail. Birds and butterflies randomly rise from flowers, day turns into night, grass bows in the wind as the seasons cycle and there is wildlife in abundance.
What had impressed me more, though, was that in spite of it being a western in which you play as an outlaw…and the inevitable gun-slinging that goes with it… the game does require you to make moral choices. Your character can choose the be helpful, compassionate and honourable… though that doesn’t always work out too well for him… or to simply be a violent, mindless outlaw, taking what he chooses at gunpoint. There are consequences to violence, and you will be hunted and imprisoned, or worse, should you choose that path, though doubtless many do, as violence and gore seems to be part of the gaming culture. My son had chosen to follow the honourable path instead, and that choice determined how the game unfolded.
‘His’ character takes care of others in his camp, and helps them with their problems. If he hunts, he must do so with respect. The animal must be killed cleanly, the flesh used for food without delay and the skin must be used too. No wasted deaths. His horse must be fed, groomed, watered and encouraged. It cannot be overridden and needs enough attention to bond with its rider. It needs to be protected… and the character needs sleep, food and shelter too.
But no matter how honourably you choose to ‘live’ as your character, both you and your horse will ‘die’. It is part of the story. How you die depends on how you have ‘lived’… My son had invested time, attention and care the virtual horse. He had identified with the character in the same way you do when you watch a film or read a book. And his choices in the game had given the character the gentlest of the programmed passings, against a beautiful sunset and he had found it moving.
For a game, it is engrossing and, after many hours of playing, I could quite understand the emotional attachment my son had formed for both the horse and character. Even though it was just a game, he had put the welfare of horse and friends before his own and had lavished attention on his horse, even going so far as to name it, and naming things has always been a big part of the bonding process. It illustrated very clearly that you learn to care about what you choose to care for.
It reminded me of the Rose in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, The Little Prince. The Rose is not a particularly nice character, but the Little Prince loves her and when he finds a whole host of roses, he explains why:
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”
The emotions that grow when you make a choice to care are almost inevitable. It is not the same as shouldering a duty or a chore when it is a chosen course and the reward comes quietly, as an opening of the heart; it becomes an act of love. If we care for person, we grow close to them, if we chose to care for… looked after… our planet, the way the Little Prince cared for his Rose, we would care about it too. The two go hand in hand.
It doesn’t really matter whether the thing you care for is what you feel it to be. It could be a cantankerous rose, or a virtual horse… the reality and the beauty is within the love and the care that is given, it is not always obvious in what we choose to care for. “But eyes are blind,” says the Little Prince. “You have to look with the heart.”
“When shall we three meet again, In thunder, lightning, or in rain…?”
Weird Sisters, Macbeth
Well, hopefully we will meet in sunshine and with more than three of us ! Join us in the northern Cairngorms where, from mountain to coast, we will explore the magic of Macbeth Country in a triangle from Cawdor Castle to Findhorn Beach, down to Glenlivet. Through the Archetypes of Lord and Lady Macbeth, the Witches, King Duncan and a Unicorn! We will use the writings of The Scottish Play and other media to discover these characters within us…..
We shall travel and explore the land during the long June days and lingering twilight at Midnight to discover this land where Celts met Picts. Where heather-clad mountains tumble down to salmon rivers like the mighty Spey, as it meanders its way to the pristine sea and white sand beaches of the Moray Firth.
The Unicorn is an iconic spiritual symbol in the British Isles and particularly in Scotland. We will use the power of the elements and spirit of the unicorn to create your own Silent Unicorn within, culminating at the old hidden seminary at Scalan in the remote Braes of Glenlivet.
There are many stories associated with the castles of the Northumbrian coastline, some historical, others apocryphal, but it is often buried within the myths and legends that some fragment of truth may be found. Few tales will pique the interest as much as when dragons or the name of King Arthur are mentioned. Stuart has told the story of the Laidly Wyrm of Bamburgh, in which a princess becomes a dragon, and were that the only tale the castle had to tell, it would be enough. But the castle has not always been known by its present name. It was once at the heart of the ancient realm of Bryneich, or Bernicia, and the castle was known as Din Guarie, a name that comes down to us through the Arthurian legends as Dolorous Guard….
The Castle of Dolorous Guard was the home of Sir Brian of the Isles, who some call King Bran Hen… Bran the Old… a cruel and evil knight and the sworn enemy of King Arthur. Sir Brian had learned enchantments from the Lady of the Lake and turned them to sate his own vicious pleasures. He took great delight, so the story goes, in imprisoning and torturing both men and women alike.
Many of Arthur’s knights were lost to Sir Brian’s enchantments, for whenever a knight approached the castle, they were faced by a band of ten warriors at each of the two gates and were forced to fight. Many made the attempt, but none succeeded. Even Gawain, one of the greatest knights, was captured and cast into the dungeons with the rest. As each knight was imprisoned and their helmets hung upon the wall as trophies, a mysterious gravestone sprang up outside the castle, bearing their name and they were lost to the world.
Sir Lancelot du Lac, had been raised by the Lady of the Lake and had her favour. He asked Arthur for some quest with which he could prove himself and was sent north to Bamburgh in search of the lost knights, armed with a magical shield.
Lancelot conquered the guardian warriors expelled Sir Brian, who fled south to Pendragon Castle, but the enchantment could not be broken until he had spent forty nights under its roof. Exploring his conquest, Lancelot came upon a large metal slab encrusted with jewels, which bore the inscription:
Only he who conquers La Doloreuse Garde
will be able to lift this slab,
and he will find his name beneath it.
Summoning all his strength, Lancelot raised the slab and found beneath it another inscription:
Here will repose Lancelot of the Lake, the son of King Ban.
Abandoned as a babe by the Lake and left to be found and raised by its Lady, it was only now that Lancelot learned of his royal lineage, and he knew that this would be his final place of rest.
In the castle’s chapel, Lancelot found a door which led deep underground and into a cave. The earth shook, and a deafening noise filled the cave. As he entered, two copper knights armed with huge swords attacked. Lancelot did not falter, defeating the metallic monsters and moving deeper into the cavern. There he found a wailing well, guarded by an axe-wielding monster. Lancelot fought with all his might, breaking his shield upon the creature’s hide. At the end, he throttled it with his bare hands and cast it down into the well.
Catching his breath, he raised his head and saw a beautiful maiden clad in copper and in her hand she held two keys which she offered to the victorious knight. Taking them, he realised that they were the keys to end the enchantment. One unlocked a copper pillar containing thirty copper pipes that screamed. The other unlocked a casket from which a whirlwind escaped. Then, at last, the castle was free of the evil spell. The mysterious gravestones and the trophy helmets disappeared, the lost knights were found and released from their prison and Lancelot took the castle for his own.
Lancelot renamed the castle Joyous Guard, filling it with colour and light. Delicate bridges linked the towers upon which were carved fabulous beasts, the dark chambers were ablaze with candles and the rich glow of tapestries and the walls were plastered and gilded so that, catching the rays of the rising sun across the sea, the light of the castle could be seen far across the land.
It is told that many knights and their ladies were his guests, including Arthur and Guinevere, his queen, with whom Lancelot fell in love. His love was returned and the two, loving their king, were broken hearted.
Perhaps it was for this reason that Lancelot allowed the ill-fated Tristan to stay at Joyous Guard with Isolde after the two had fled from her husband, King Mark.
Accompanying Arthur to Camelot, Lancelot’s love for the queen was exposed and Guinevere was condemned to death. Lancelot rescued her from the pyre and carried her to Joyous Guard, but the tragedy unfolded, Arthur laid siege to the castle, inflicting heavy damage, and Lancelot was forced to return to the land of his birth. The castle sank back into gloom, becoming once again the castle of Dolorous Guard.
Yet, the story tells that Lancelot returned. His body was brought back to his castle and laid in a vault. It lays there still, buried by the sands of time and veiled by the mist that rolls in from the sea.