The Pendragon Quest

By Martin Pilkington, UK

Dan Brown, JK Rowling and JRR Tolkein as best selling authors have something in common. Their books draw from the ‘underground stream’ that is Arthurian mythology. Arthurian myth stretches, like the Milky Way, across the panorama of time leaving a bright trail throughout the last fifteen hundred years and, as these authors have shown, the immortal glamour of this mythology can still hold the attention of its listeners and readers, and no doubt will continue to do so for as long as humans tell stories.

Many of the components of the Arthurian myth appear in different forms, cloaked with variant forms, characters and appearance but remaining constant underneath. The appeal to the human psyche remains as the mythology poses questions and expresses truths about the human spiritual journey. Ancient knowledge is inherent in the mythology and encoded in the Arthurian stories are arcane mysteries concerning human evolution and spiritual possibility.

Arthurian legend has always had a glamour and mystery about it, especially the Welsh tales of Arthur. On almost every page the Mabinogion contains descriptions of contact with the Celtic Otherworld and words and deeds of magic and esoteric mystery. The mystery of the Grail itself, first expanded upon with Christian significance by Chretein de Troyes, was of much older provenance.

The Nanteos Cup, purported to hold healing powers, could be considered  the Welsh grail cup

The nature of the Grail has been an object of speculation for nearly nine hundred years with many a famous figure in history pursuing its mysteries, and many an ambitious writer or alchemist claiming to have found its arcane secret.

The modern genre of writers, adopted by Hollywood, have tapped into this stream of myth and esoteric teaching. The reader feels close to a mystery, an enigma which, despite the film or novel, never quite provide the real answer. Mythology itself is a mystic’s pursuit as it is designed to have many meanings and levels within it. The parables in the Bible are the simplest and clearest examples of knowledge contained in allegory - timeless and fathomless in their content of wisdom and truth and yet easily understood and accessible. The depth of wisdom derived depends on the capabilities of the listener to appreciate the layers of understanding. As Garfield loves lasagne, mystics love allegories.

Many attempts have been made by academics to pursue the literal Arthur or Merlin, to bottle the myth and imprison the legend inside one set of assumptions, theories or hypotheses that place Arthur or Merlin in one part of Britain or France or another, nailed in by place names or genealogies. Many regions of Britain contain Arthur’s hill, bowl, spoon, fort, stone, quoit, seat, table and so on. Arthur seems to have been busy all over Britain and Merlin is almost as widely spread being claimed by Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany.

Stonehenge

There are contradictions in time, location and in the enemies which both of these characters faced but the pervading feature of the legends is the existence of magic, mystery and ancient wisdom. Britain was known as ‘Merlin’s Precinct’ or ‘Enclosure’ according to bardic tools known as the Welsh Triads. This mysterious nature of Britain was acknowledged when the Romans arrived and the fabled Hyperborea of the Greeks, where Apollo dwelt for part of the year, was recognised by ancient writers as the land of Britain. Stonehenge stands as the most well known example of this legacy and Merlin’s mythical role in building Stonehenge equates him with Imhotep the Pyramid builder of Ancient Egypt.

The survival and development of ancient knowledge from the Mysteries of Egypt, Greece and Israel through esoteric schools from Pythagoras to the Freemasons is documented in many texts.

Masonic imagery on the American dollar bill

These texts comment that great secrets have been transported through a chain of schools that drew on ancient and current knowledge to pass across the techniques of spiritual development from one generation to another. Established religions have either suppressed or cultivated such schools throughout the centuries. One fundamental tenet of spiritual growth that has been passed across the ages is the emphasis on individual personal development underlined by the imperative ‘Know thyself’.

The essence of evolution, as understood by modern anthropology, is Darwinian in nature but this theoretical stream is opposed in Western society by its polarised opposite creationist view. It would appear that entrenched views, whether scientific or religious, provide the foundation for debate; however there is a third way.

Human evolution, as outlined in the story of the grail, is a quest driven by the human spark to return to its origins. Humans have a spiritual core that energises the physical vehicle and this spark has driven human societies, recent atheistic developments aside, to see a Creator behind the universe and a definitive purpose to human life. The Grail quest enables the human being to spiritually progress, and the search for truth and wisdom appears as the natural purpose of human life. That few experience the Grail but many search, mirrors nature’s economy and the cyclical alternative to finding the Grail of reincarnation was not an unfamiliar doctrine to early Christian Gnostics as well as to all Eastern religions. Recycling is more ancient than the Green parties of Europe assume.

Castel Coch, Wales, a  modern Grail Castle

The Arthurian myths capture the spiritual quest and the clues are the esoteric school surrounding Arthur alluded to by Geoffrey of Monmouth and other writers. A philosophical and esoteric circle around the king was a common feature of Celtic royalty. Geoffrey of Monmouth, a medieval equivalent of Dan Brown, uses an interesting reference to a Platonic manual called De Deo Socrati in his pseudo-historic History of the Kings of Britain. This bestseller amongst the Norman nobility first put Arthur onto the world stage, however the reference to this work, in a climate of medieval ecclesiastical dogma, is extraordinary as it is a reference guide to the spiritual worlds and their operations outside of a Christian context. The whole Grail cycle which followed Geoffrey’s was tolerated by the Church but clearly laid the responsibility for spiritual growth with the individual not the Church hierarchy.

Evolution in medieval terms, through the Grail Cycle, was seen as union with God via the spiritual quest which purified and refined the seeker and opened up his religious and spiritual anatomy to the influences of a higher intelligence. It was more akin with Gnostic doctrines than Church dogma. Pilgrims Progress, in later centuries, mirrored the quest with a less veiled allegorical plot, and Pilgrim’s entrance to the kingdom of heaven mirrors Galahad’s success with the Grail.

A medieval Welsh Castle

The development of moral and spiritual values, the struggle against the snares of the senses and the trial to prove oneself worthy are recurrent mythic themes that overlay the spiritual quest. The lifetime journey of development is mirrored in a set of Arthurian stories concerning the light opposing the dark and emerging triumphant.

The diligent enquirer can see the evolution of society as well as the individual being as having been influenced by the Arthurian myths. The United States of America, as an English speaking nation, was facilitated by John Dee and Mercator, the navigator. They provided Elizabeth I of England with an ‘historic’ dossier claiming that Arthur sailed to Newfoundland, thus establishing a prior English claim to the Americas to counter a Papal declaration that all the Americas belonged to Spain and Portugal. Over the course of the centuries many English kings including perhaps the most significant, William the Conqueror, claimed descent from Arthur as part of the legitimisation of their claim to the English throne.

The Pendragon was the name of the war leader for the early Britons after the Romans removed themselves to defend their homeland in 410AD. It means ‘great leader’ and implies a combination of brains and brawn. The provenance of the dragon is uncertain but some researchers claim its origins were in Persia. The mythical beast then moved to China and from there it moved, with the migrating plains tribes, across the Steppes to reach the Eastern end of the Roman Empire which is how the symbol reached Wales where it remains on the Welsh flag to this day.

Welsh Flag

The notion of great leadership in a time of crisis is a recurring theme and the messianic nature of this role has continued in the notion of Arthur as the ‘Once and Future King’ who lies sleeping until Britain needs him again. This suspension of heroic figures in a timeless Otherworld occurs across many lands and reminds us that the role and function of such a hero in uniting a people and leading them to a new and uplifting future is part of all human cultures.

Humanity looks now to a bright new epoch where the best of the old and an uplifting new influence will come to progress the human race. Such is the time now. A new age is dawning and humanity faces choices about whether to progress materially or spiritually. We all, no matter what country, gender or background we are from, may quest for what is true and progressive for humanity. The next stage of the human struggle will be to resist the ever encroaching lure of materialism and assert one’s destiny, seeking, as did the knights of old, spiritual evolution and the true grail of an enlightened individual and collective future.

About the author

Martin Pilkington is currently writing a book about Arthur, Merlin and mythology. He lives in Ceredigion, West Wales. If you wish to be kept up-to-date with activities and events concerning this area of interest look on the website at www.pendragoninterest.com.

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