Why put a spiritual spotlight on the history of the King Arthur legend? Because his legend has a secret, spiritual dimension. We also connect a few interesting historical dots.
Let’s begin with some records about the history of King Arthur. In 550 BCE, the writer Gilda mentions a Roman centurion with the name Lucius Artorius Castus in his book De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae. He recounts the Briton’s and Roman’s victory over the Picts (2) in the third century at a place called Mt. Badon. (1) It is uncertain whether Artorius and King Arthur are one and the same person. Some believe that Lucius lived in the 2nd century.
250 years later the Celtic monk and historian Nennius refers to Artorius in his book Historia Brittonum.
The History of the Britons in 900 A.D., whose author was probably a Welsh monk, tells the story of a warrior called Arthur. He overcame the Saxons in twelve battles. Twelve is significant in Alchemy and Astrology. It’s the number of the zodiac signs and the twelve stages of the great work. Arthur gets his first spiritual touch.
In the Welsh Annals (compiled from various sources around the middle of the 10th century AD) we can read, In the Battle of Badon, Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders, leaving the Britons as victors”
1138 A.D. Geoffrey of Monmouth (Welsh too) published the History of the Kings of Britain. He described Arthur in more detail. Many believe that Geoffrey drew from mystical Celtic sources. He also wrote about Merlin and was likely the first to do so. Et voila – we have a fusion of Celtic myths, Alchemy, and Astrology.
Robert Wace, a Norman poet (France), introduced 1155 BCE in his book Roman de Rou the idea of the Round Table (the zodiac) and Excalibur. In Qabalah Excalibur is known as the Sword of Binah – that’s the sword of creation. The same sword is used for evolution – that’s Jesus sword. As such it’s a symbol of the intellect (discernment). It cuts off and eliminates flawed thinking and negative feelings. You can see it in Tarot card 11, Justice.
1170, the Gnostic Waldensians entered the European religious limelight. They expanded from Lyon into the Cottian Alps – that’s South-East France. The Catholic church considered this a threat.
While the Waldensians spread their influence, Chretien de Troyes, 1170-1185 A.D., adds new themes to the Arthur legend. Camelot, Lancelot, and the prototype of the Sacred Grail found their way into the legend. At that time, the Sacred Grail was just a golden dish or plate. Chretien’s story Percival and the Fisher King is an esoteric work. It borrows from Gnostic and Alchemical traditions. The Fisher King is a nice blind of Jesus Christ. It’s a bit of a funny story too. The Fisher King accidentally castrated himself and was kept alive by the Sacred Grail. What a nice remake of the ancient circumcision symbolism! This story contains also practical spiritual secrets of the sublimation of sexual energy for the sake of illumination. By now it had become a Celtic-Alchemy-Astrology-esoteric-Christian fusion. This is a major spiritual milestone in the history of the King Arthur legend.
In 1200 Robert de Baron turns the Holy Grail into a chalice. Robert was a French poet and supposedly came from a village called Boron, in Montbéliard, East France. He linked the Sacred Grail to the Last Supper vessel that used by St. Joseph of Arimathea to collect Jesus’ blood. He linked the Celtic-Alchemy-Astrology-esoteric-Christian myth to mainstream religion. What a smart move! It turned out to be a great catalyst for the legend’s popularity.
From 1209 to 1229 BCE the Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade raged in Europe. The purpose: the elimination of Catharism in Languedoc, south of France. Like the Waldensians, the Cathars were Gnostics. 1215, the Pope declared the Waldensians heretics too. Their annihilation followed hard on the heels.
Five years into the genocide, unknown French authors wrote the Vulgate Cycle, likely from 1220 to 1230. This is a major landmark of the history of the King Arthur legend. Historians guess that the writers were French Cistercian monks. The Cisterians were founded in 1098 and promoted manual labor and self-sufficiency. Were they secretly influenced by Gnosticism?
The Vulgate Cycle has five parts:
- The History of the Sacred Grail. This is another fusion of Celtic and esoteric Christian myths. It includes the account of Joseph of Arimathea, who lend his tomb to Jesus and brought the grail to Britain.
- The History of Merlin and the early history of Arthur.
- The Lancelot Proper. This is the longest part of the Vulgate. It relays the adventures of Lancelot and other knights, in particular Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair.
- The Quest of the Sacred Grail. A blind of the great work and the confection of the Stone of the Wise.
- The Death of Arthur by Mordred and the end of his kingdom.
From 1230 to 1240, a decade after the Vulgate Cycle, unknown authors write the Post-Vulgate Cycle. It appears to be a competitive remake of the Vulgate Cycle. It has five parts too:
- The History of the Sacred Grail was pretty much the same as that of the Vulgate Cycle
- They added the Huth-Merlin to the History of Merlin. The Huth-Merlin has more adventures of Arthur and early Knights of the Round Table. Also more stories of Arthur’s incestuous son Mordred, Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, as well as a first version of the Tristan prose. The Lady of the Lake borrows from Tree of Life symbolism.
- The Quest of the Sacred Grail. More stories from Galahad, Percival, and Bors as well as Tristan.
- Few changes to the Death of Arthur.
Is it a coincidence that most of the Arthurian legend emerged during the time of the genocide of the Gnostics? We’ll never know for sure. Anyways, it would have been a smart move. At that time, the schools were in the hand of the clergy, who monopolized education. News and entertainment, however, spread with bards and minstrels. That was the Medieval Internet so to say.
The King Arthur legend doesn’t mention the crusades, which were the prime religious events at that time. This is another indication that the King Arthur myths are spiritual works because they usually ignore religious subjects.
An interesting milestone is the Picatrix of 1350. It’s a Latin translation of the Aim of the Sage. The Picatrix kicked off a new genre: the medieval grimoires. Noteworthy are also the three Dominican mystics Johannes Tauler, a 14th-century German Dominican, Rulman Merswin (1307-1382), and Heinrich Seuse (1295-1366). Heinrich wrote the Book of the Nine Rocks that is specked with Gnostic and Alchemical symbolism. These three men spawned a movement that is today known as Mystical Christianity. Great men and women were part of this tradition, e.g. Meister Eckhart, Marguerite Porete, and Emmanuel Swedenborg.
Sometime between 1350 and 1400, an anonymous author(3) published Gawain and the Green Knight in England. This is a beautiful side story of the Arthur legend about karma and honor. At that time, the Renaissance was in full bloom. Dante’s Divine Comedy was already thirty years in print. Nicolas Flamel lived in that century, who became famous for translating Abraham the Mage. He made Alchemy presentable to a large European audience.
According to Paul Foster Case, an assembly of esoteric sages created the Tarot in Fez around 1400. Fez is today’s Marocco. Main purpose: the pictorial illustration of the twenty-two paths of wisdom of the Tree of Life. The esoteric scene found another means of distributing esoteric wisdom. Spiritual wisdom in plain sight concealed as playing cards – pretty smart. The first Tarot card appeared around 1350.
(1) The Roman British general Ambrosius Aurelianus was credited with the same victory.
(2) The Picts were the largest northern tribe of Scotland
(3) Also known as the Gawain Poet or Pearl Poet.
Picture attribution: “Idylls of the King 15“. Merlin instructs young Arthur. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.