Meaningful Myth: The ‘treasure’ buried in Arthurian legend

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I love stories. I love myth. What about you? Reading stories and myths from antiquity is like uncovering gold.

At the heart of each tribe, or even a modern nation, is a myth (or several).

Myth, to many people, in the modern sense is something that is not true; but in the academic and real sense a myth is any story that is recounted to tell the founding story of a nation, or it is something that is re-told over the centuries because it is of paramount importance to that tribe or nation, true of not.

With such stories, or myths, one has to dig deep to uncover the ‘treasure’ they contain, and apply their meaning, the moral, and cosmic relevance to each one of us today.

We have forgotten our foundational myths.

We suffer from ‘founding myth amnesia’ or relegate myth or legend to the same level as the latest Hollywood movie; or worse, because of ‘improved’ story-lines and computer animation, modern stories and movies seem to take precedence. Those old stories and myths, in books, stay on the shelf collecting dust. Until, one day….

So, sit back, get comfortable, hold onto the sides of the chair, let your thoughts wander and read this short, adapted, story that touches earth and The Other, in a cosmic mystery that will take us further (I hope) on our journey.

Expect the unexpected in myth.

Enter Sir Percival. Now, there’s someone from a myth that can teach each one of us a thing or two.

Percival, before he was a knight, had a strict upbringing. As a child and youth he was told what to do, told not to ask questions, not even to talk in the presence of adults, and was told to work hard.

His life centred on being a ‘doer’, not a ‘thinker’. If he lived today, he would have been told inaction means you have no spine. Work, action, and more work means you’re a man, an adult, are taking responsibility. And so, he grew up knowing only that.

It seems our society lauds such action, rather than waiting, thinking things through. Our politicians and company executives want more for less,  greater action, less responsibility, and so we end up a ‘fracking’ mentality.

Pecival would have been at home, here. If you have a crowd of people, and an ‘action’ person speaks, and a ‘let us think about this’ person who speaks, in all probability the ‘action’ person will be seen as the strong one, and the ‘thinking, let us wait an see’ and reflective person will be seen as the weak one; and not many want to be seen as weak. Reflection, going deep, are seen as dirty words, today.

So, Percival grew up, and got his wish of being a knight. But, a night is a man of action, and   needs a quest. Soon, Percival encounters the Fisher King. The latter is, or rather, was a mighty King, but he had sustained a dreadful wound and was slowly dying. In some strange way the King and his Kingdom were connected; and so as the King was dying, so was his Kingdom.

Isn’t that the same today? Maybe, many wouldn’t adopt the ‘leader to nation’ mystical connection (though I do), but we do reap what we sow (that’s Biblical), and a nation inherits the benefits or ‘fall-out’ of its leaders’ policies (and I understand this, too). It’s one aspect of connectedness.

Sir Percival, the knight, now in the court of the Fisher King sees (or is it a vision of ) a young man carrying a bleeding lance, then two boys carrying a candelabra, and finally, he witnesses a beautiful young girl bearing an elaborately decorated cup, the holy grail, which he understand to be the cup that the Christ used at His last supper on earth. He believes that that holy grail will heal the King, and so heal the land. And, he immediately leaves for his quest: to find the holy grail, and bring it to the King, for healing to take place.

Decisiveness, might, strong-willed, a flexing of those ‘muscles’, and off a youthful Sir Percival goes. What will he find? What will he do? Will he be successful? The story, this myth (of which there are many variations, and this is but one), continues:

Sir Percival over a number of months, the duration of his quest, encounters rogue knights and vanquishes them. No holy grail! He meets up with all sorts of witches, goblins, even hob-goblins and defeats them, but still no holy grail. Battered, bruised and a little bloodied, he valiantly fights against a dragon and defeats it. [I do wish he hadn’t done that to a dragon. A wyvern, yes; but not a dragon. It’s a well-known mythological fact that dragons are wise and fairly friendly (though you wouldn’t want to upset one), but wyverns are wild and nasty.]. So, he defeats a dragon, just, but still no holy grail. And, so the story continues.

There is so much action here. Sir Percival’s story would make a great movie, and has done, several of them! Each one, ‘jammed-packed’ with sweaty, bloodied action…each one missing the point. We now fast-forward:

The Fisher King is very close to death, his Kingdom is in ruins about him. Sir Percival has still not found and brought the holy grail to the king.

The story is almost finished, and from our ‘action’ dominated society this seems too early an ending, too abrupt, unfinished, even. But, there’s more:

Sir Percival is told that his quest was, indeed, futile. The holy grail wouldn’t have saved the King or the Kingdom. But, asking three questions would have healed the King and the Kingdom.

Sir Percival’s upbringing had worked against him. Being taught to hold his tongue, to keep quiet, to ‘do’ and not to ‘think’, had been his downfall, and the King’s, too, as a consequence.

So, what are the three questions that Sir Percival should have asked of the King, right at the beginning?

Sir Percival was told that he (only) needed to ask three questions in the Fisher King’s presence, and then the King and kingdom would have been healed, and these questions were:

What ails thee, dear King?

Whom does the grail serve?

How can I, as a knight, assist thee?

So, had Sir Percival asked those three questions the King (and Kingdom) would have been healed, and the story ends there, and so you must draw your own conclusion about the outcome.

There are many theories about this myth, and of course some have added to it, or ‘strained’ interpretation is bizarre ways. To many, the grail was Christ’s cup, others (more recently) have said it is a box of bones, a severed head or even the (representational) womb of Mary! These are interesting, but, personally, I think they miss the point, and miss the meaning that has been there for centuries.

Uncovering the deep meaning of this myth, reveals and amazing truth. Treasure awaits.

This is a myth that we can all benefit from as individuals, and that nations (such as the UK in its current political turmoil) can benefit from, too.

It is clear that asking questions is good, but there’s more.

These questions, that Sir Percival should have asked, are ones borne out of love.

It was love that would have saved the King and his Kingdom in this myth. And, we should show love. Anything else is ‘window-dressing’.

Love wins, every time. It’s love!

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