The wound of the Fisher King

One of the most intriguing characters in any mythology is that of the Fisher King in the Grail Traditions who is wounded in the thigh.

The usual interpretation is that the wound to the “thigh” is a euphemism for castration; the Fisher King is impotent. He suffers a loss of vitality and the ability to reproduce. This has merit as an interpretation but I think it narrows the teaching to an over specific extent.

If we reconsider this mythology in connection with the mythology of Dionysus, perhaps, the wound is to the thigh and has deeper meanings.

Dionysus was born of from the union of a god (Zeus) and a mortal (Semele).

So he is a link between the worlds of the human and the divine. In the context of Arthurian mythology, parallels could be drawn between Dionysus and Merlin which opens up a whole new direction of thought and meditation.

Dionysus was “twice born”.

In my mind, this has links to a character in Welsh mythology that also has connections with Merlin. Zeus rescued Dionysus from the womb of Semele and placed him in his own thigh. The oddness of this is not easy to understand and for the purpose of this piece, it is not necessary to understand but only recognise the common aspect of a wound to the thigh.

Dionysus could be said to represent nature or the natural aspect of human psychology. The instinctual, the intuitive and the creative. He represents spontaneity, the ability to experience joy. The celebration of connection with our heart and nature. In this respect he is an aspect of The Green Man.

So, is this the full meaning of the wound?

When we lose touch with our intuitive selves or our ability to live spontaneously. If we forget how to experience the joy and wonder in life or repress our creative energies, our connection with the natural, the instinctual and intuitive.

By becoming stuck in our old habits and modes of living, in doing what is expected of us rather than what our heart, gently, guides us to do.

Perhaps then, we discover that we are living in the Wasteland where nothing has nurture to grow and all lies arid; the dust of our lost hopes, forgotten dreams and once burning desires that we have stopped remembering, finding ourselves bogged down in the routine and the lives imposed upon us.

It is at that point that we need to remember the cause of the thigh-wound. It is the spirit of Dionysus, nurtured by our higher-self, the loss of which is the cause of stagnation as we suffer the loss of all he represents.

The Grail Knight is expected to ask the question.

“Who does the Grail serve?”

Is the answer or, at least, an answer; Dionysus.

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Into the Labyrinth

Theseus and the Minotaur is another mythological teaching that can be interpreted in varied ways. I have to admit that I had written this piece a few weeks ago but lost my draft copy. In writing it again I seem to have posed more questions than answers.
One interpretation could be to see the Labyrinth as representing the subconscious, or unconscious, mind and the Minotaur, our Shadow or dark aspect which has to be overcome.

 
What is the Minotaur seeking to destroy?

One answer could be Youth.

 

As a result of a plague sent upon Athens, the Athenians send seven maidens and seven young men, each year, as sacrifice to Minos. This represents the killing of Youth on the orders of an older King; a situation that creates a few thoughts to contemplate.
On the third year of this tribute being paid, Theseus intervenes.

 
How is the Minotaur defeated?

 
The hero Theseus is helped by the King’s daughter, Ariadne. The feminine aspect of our psyche is accessed to allow safe passage into and out from the labyrinth of our sub-conscious. The integration of the feminine into the psyche of the male hero allows him to defeat the shadow, the bestial, untamed side of himself, maintaining balance and health between opposites.
There are other interesting dynamics at play within this tale. It is Ariadne’s father, Minos, who creates the Labyrinth and demands the sacrifices, yet she helps to put a stop to it. Later, Theseus’ inaction leads to the death of his father. He also takes Ariadne with him but soon abandons her. She is consoled by Dionysus; another interesting layer if we consider what Dionysus represents and think about the Maenads. It is almost as if in the same way that the hero, Theseus, has had to tame his wildman nature, the quest of the heroine is to be introduced to wildness, to her inner wild, untamed aspect, to integrate that part of herself into an organised and, up to that point, controlled psyche.
Theseus eventually is killed by being thrown into the sea. The element of water is, traditionally, linked with emotion.

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Peter Pan

One of the aspects of Peter Pan that has always intrigued me is that of the crocodile that swallowed a clock and that tracks Captain Hook.

Crocodiles have a rich heritage in many folklore stories and myhologies. Below are listed a brief and incomplete examples.

Among many Egyptian references there is Ammut who devours the  hearts of wrongdoers.

In some Native American mythologies the crocodile, or alligator, is a sun-swallower with links to rebirth.

In Arabian folklore it passes judgement on the accused and in West Africa it embodies the soul of someone wronged who seeks vengeance.

In Mediavel Europe it represented hypocrisy and in Jungian psychology it represented torpid ill-temper.

I am sure there is also an Alchemical meaning for the crocodile, but have not been able to confirm this with research so far.

Captain Hook is, certainly, an ill-tempered wrongdoer and there are other aspects of the definitions above that apply but, to my mind, the crocodile in Peter Pan represents something else.

 

Mortality and Aging.

 

Pan is the eternal boy who never grows up. His adversary, Hook, represents all he desires to avoid, namely, his own maturity, old age and death. Hook, in essence, is Peter, grown up or, at least, how Pan may, potentially grow up; into a joyless, hollow and, ultimately, meaningless life. A person who has grown up, or had to grow up in a world that denies magic and wonder. The “real” world of responsibility, work, commitments…

Peter fights against his own inevitable destiny. How many adults are walking around today having lost touch with their inner Pan? Trapped in the cycle of survival and necessity feeling lost, with the ever present sound of a clock ticking and the crocodile of regret snapping at their heels? Perhaps, regretting their lost youth and envious of those who are still young. Trying to recapture it in some form of mid-life crisis.

Peter Pan fights Hook in an attempt to stay ever young Hook wants to kill him, to destroy the magic represented by Peter which he, himself, has lost. Hook is all too aware of the ticktock croc’.

The story represents an internal struggle in each individual human psyche.

If we then start to contemplate Wendy and Tinkerbell, representing the Feminine and magical aspects of our psyche, we may begin to unravel a mythological teaching.

In some respects there are too many Peters in our modern culture; men who want to remain eternal boys, mothered and pampered, taken care of and avoiding personal responsibility. Lost little boys who want to continually act like a lad and never grow up. Being Peter Pan is not a healthy choice. One might also suggest that Peter remaining a boy means never going through adolescence and sexual maturity. He remains unable to “father” the next generation. Fraud would see something in this fear of sexual potency

So too, many grow up and become disillusioned and weary, their spirit broken and out of touch with their inner sun/son. Regretful of a lost youth and living a tick tock life of dissatisfaction and torpid ill temper.

So if both have destructive aspects what is the answer?

We have to grow up, to move from being a child to being an adult but we can still retain a childlike awe and wonder for the world and the things within it. We just need to acknowledge the inner Wendy, the inner Pan and sprinkle a little fairy dust into our lives.

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mythological integrity

The trend of The BBC to take mythological themes and warp them into some strange mix of adventure and soap opera continues with Atlantis on Saturday nights. These types of series’, which include Merlin and Robin Hood seem to take the bare bones of an established mythology and mix them up, throwing in odd historical characters, most of whom had nothing to do with the original mythology and creating new characters and storylines that have little to do with the original stories.

Being too fussy?

Maybe, I am but as T.S Eliot once made comments about the poetical tradition along the lines of; if you write poetry on certain themes or subject matter, it not only adds to the stream of previous poets and their work, it changes it. This is true of mythology too.

Now, I do not want or expect mythological teachings to be a stagnant unchanging entity. Each generation reads, digests and, I suppose, has the right to add to the story, but that comes with the sort of responsibility Eliot comments upon in regard to poetry. Personally, I think the way these mythologies are handled by some contemporary scriptwriters is irresponsible, in respect to the way they treat the original and twist it out of shape. The latest version of Robin Hood was little more han a third rate pantomime, Merlin altered the context and storyline as well as falling into the usual traps with regard to the female characters.

This is not adding to an existing mythology in an enriching way, it is changing it totally. It is nothing more than taking well known names from tradition and hanging a soap opera on them.

Perhaps, the counter argument is that relationships, soap opera dynamics, lack of regard for the preciousness of mythological story, etc, do, in fact, represent our times and it is these things that we are compelled to add to the tradition. Personally, these tales mean more to me and I feel they should be treated with more respect.

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Reading the Detectives

The genre of detective fiction is a large and complex one and it is not the aim of this post to provide a comprehensive history but, rather, to put forward a few points that may be of interest.

In the decades proceeding the publication of The Moonstone (1868), authors such as Poe and, to some extent, Dickens had established the concept of a detective being an important and, in the case of Poe, the main, character in a novel or short story. There was a growing readership for the “Sensation Novel” and Collins, along with other authors such as Henry Wood and Elizabeth Braddon, were producing works that fitted this description. The sensation novel, itself, could trace a trail back to the Newgate Annals and French detective fiction.

A Touch of Class.

It is with The Moonstone and Sergeant Cuff that I make my first observation. Collins, allegedly, based Cuff on a real policeman, namely, Whicher who had been, notoriously, ostracized for his failure to bring a satisfactory conclusion to Road Hill House Case. Cuff also makes mistakes and does not completely solve the mystery of The Moonstone.

The Victorian class structure regarded policemen of all ranks as “trade” and generally of a lower social order. The fact that these men were often investigating and, most disagreeably, accusing their “betters” was an uncomfortable and threatening issue in regards to the defined social structure. It could be said that this issue was tackled in literature of the period by having the police fail, or to have them appear bungling and ineffective. This led to the emergence of the Amateur Gentleman Detective who, invariably, outwitted not only the criminal but his professional counterparts. Normally, he was of a standing that allowed him accepted access to the higher levels of society while not preventing him donning a disguise and mixing with the common people. He would, also, have colleagues or accomplices from these lower social classes too.

Into the Golden Age.

This literary device can be seen in operation throughout the emergence of the detective story as a specific genre and into thr “Golden Age” of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The main characters of Allingham, Sayers and Christie were of a class above “working”. Poirot also had the advantage of being an outsider due to nationality, so could circumvent the social etiquette to some extent and move freely between the classes without causing offence.
That is not to say there were not exceptions but of the characters that retained their popularity it is, largely, true.

Americans prefer hard boiled.

It was with the emergence of the harder edged American gumshoes that this formula began to break down. They came from a nation that saw itself as classless and it fragmented the strict genre of Golden Age Puzzle in various directions; thriller, spy caper, etc, along with harder and more violent detective stories.

Girl Power.

A second observation and an interesting footnote to this discussion is the emergence of a number of authors now writing books set in Victorian or Post-Great War periods. These often feature female detectives who come from the lower classes but have access to all levels of society. It is a vein that, for the most part, remained untapped by authors writing in those periods and comes from a view of the past constructed firmly by the present, one that presents the modern author with a number of creative opportunities.

Of these modern stories (and there are many) some works of note are Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, a well written and researched series featuring an intriguing main character with some unique approaches to solving crimes against a backdrop of an haunted past as a VAD nurse in The Great War. There is also the Mary Russell novels by Laurie R. King, who has an older Sherlock Holmes as her companion, having met him keeping bees in Sussex. As an avid reader of Conan Doyle in my younger days, I was wary of this series. Using Holmes as a main character could so easily go wrong. However, these are good reads and the author handles her subject with skill, good characterisation and cracking plots. There are many others, some good, some not so good. Indeed, much like the Victorian period when work ranged from the Penny Bloods, Yellowbacks through the many Quarterly Magazines and Periodicals, the quality of writing covers a large range, written by authors, the majority of whom, have faded into obscurity; in some cases, undeservedly so, but that is a subject for another post.

The Vikings are coming!

One cannot end a discussion on contemporary crime fiction without a mention of Scandinavian literature. TV and bookshops have seen the emergence of interest in these stories. Within TV series’ I think many a viewer had grown tired of homegrown and U.S output which is often formulaic and predictable, or refers back to Golden Age style plots and characters, but to fully understand the popularity of Scandinavian Detectives is, indeed, a three pipe problem. I would suggest it is a bit of a fad that will, eventually, diminish; consider the hype surrounding The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a few years ago and one can see that interest wains swiftly in a fast moving market.

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reference sources:

The Crime and Mystery Book by Ian Ousby. Thames and Hudson, 1997.
The Art of Mystery & Detective Stories by Peter Haining. Treasure Press, 1986.

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The Dragon and the Damsel

We all know the story or are familiar with a variant of the theme. Brave knight fights the dragon to save the damsel in distress. On the surface this could be, merely, read as a bit of a macho man thing, striding in, slaying the beast and saving the defenceless woman. I like to look at it differently.

Stories like this always fascinate me because they deserve a little more attention than we sometimes afford them. Plus, they have always bugged me a little because I could not help feeling the old dragon, not to mention the damsel, got a raw deal.

I was reading a few books recently about the limbic part of our brain. It was referred to as our lizard brain, because it consists of the oldest and most primitive part of the brain.

 
Possibly, the part that generates dreams, it is concerned with basic drives, connected to the nervous system and has an emotional aspect to it. It would take too long to describe its full make up here. The point being that Lizard, Serpent and Dragon really represent the same thing. So we have a starting point with our story: the dragon may represent the lizard part of our brain.

So why do we need to “slay” it.

This caused a few problems for me. I have spent a lot of time seeing the need for us to develop and listen to this very aspect of our minds. As humans we spend too much time in our rational, cerebral mind and suppress a lot of what the cerebellum creates for us. Recently, I realised that, maybe, the Lizard/Limbic and the Cerebellum are not quite identical, or that there two sides to this portion of the brain too. It is the fearful, selfish, spoilt child part of us, the do as I please, want things my way, throw the toys out of the pram aspect in each of us…a shadow side to the cerebellum’s creative, nurturing aspect which is the part that has the potential to give birth to dreams and creativity.

So, perhaps, the dragon represents this shadow aspect. It does not have to be slain but it does have to be tamed. This is done with the rational, organising, logical aspect of our brain; the cerebral, thinking part. Rational thought, logic, etc, are qualities often attributed to the male, or masculine energy. The masculine aspect of the brain, in other words: The brave knight.

So, why does he save the Damsel?

We have already brushed upon it. The emotional and creative aspect of the cerebellum, where ideas and creativity are born and nurtured. These can be seen as feminine attributes. The damsel is a woman and a woman can bring forth new life. The damsel in the story is the positive manifestation of the limbic system that needs to be separated and rescued from the negative aspect (the dragon) by the cerebral aspect of the mind (the knight). Once the cerebellum is protected from the dragon of selfishness, fear, anxiety, stagnation and denial, the damsel of nurturing, creativity and love can be unchained.

This is just an interpretation and one I am not entirely content with from the point of view that it still has the Dragon as a negative, unwanted aspect.

Personally, I think Dragon mythology is a positive theme, particularly when understood in reference to Earth energies but, perhaps, that is a subject for a future post.

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competition or collaboration

I heard a story recently. it may be factual, it may be untrue but it has a sort of mythological energy to it.

 
Dinosaurs where, on the whole, either carnivores or herbivores. Herbivores tend to group together, the same is true today with mammals. The story goes that certain species of herbivores collaborated, not just with eachother but with other types of herbivore. Those with keen eyesight keeping lookout, those with heavy armour were ready to protect the group, those that were good at knocking down vegetation to eat leaving enough for the other herbivores to consume.

 
The carnivores existance was very different. Theirs was a kill or be killed world. Each day an individual struggle to survive. Not only would they hunt the herbivores, they would pretty much kill and eat anything they could, including their own species, their own young. Even their own kind were potential competiton rather than potential companions. You do not want the old or the disabled living, they just use up resources that would, eitherwise, be yours (unless someone beats you to it..better rush). Anyone different is a potential threat, best remove them. Carnivore society is a pretty bigoted place to exist.

 
It may not be true but, there in a nutshell, you have the two ways humans can organise society. Give it names if you want but certain tags have connotations created by paranoia, propoganda, et al, and I do not wish to use them. The bottom line is which would you choose as the society you wish to live in, to bring your children up within. I guess a few strong alpha males out there would choose to live like the carnivore, be top dog. You only get to be that for a brief, brutal while though; always someone bigger, younger, quicker on the draw coming along, unless you get them first..but you get old and then someone replaces you and you are left to die. Basing a society on the carnivore model is a nasty, rat race existance: yet, it seems to be the one that most of the world chooses, which is odd. On the whole, art and culture spring from a herbivore way of doing things; support, patronage, mutual respect and assistance. Competition or Collaboration, I know which one I prefer.

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