I’m Following My Editor’s Advice (and King Arthur’s Sword)

John Boorman's Excalibur Isn't Just Another King Arthur Movie ...

Conferring with Susan, my editor, this morning, her advice to me was to top off my sanity tank by letting go of the nooze and working on my book all day. I’ve been doing that, and I feel saner already.

My current villain, Ysbott the Snake, fleeing a well-earned execution, has found a young girl named Qeqa living all alone in a strange, uninhabited sector of Lintum Forest. How has she managed to survive? She claims she’s been protected by “gnomes” who are only visible when they choose to be. It’s got to be a lie–but how else could she be living there? She’s strong and healthy, well-fed… and she just might turn out to be a more dangerous character than Ysbott himself.

Meanwhile, special to Joshua–

King Arthur’s Sword

You can’t spend much time with the Lady of the Lake without encountering a pre-Christian tradition among the Celtic peoples that certain lakes, ponds, and bogs were sacred places endowed with spiritual energy. Celtic chieftains threw valuable items into those pools as sacrifices. Kings sometimes sacrificed their finest swords.

Might Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, have been recovered from such a place? That would certainly explain why people believed the sword to have special qualities. I think that might resonate with anyone familiar with Japan’s sword tradition.

Well, the landlord’s done mowing the lawn, so I’ll go back outside for another session with my book.

King Arthur’s Sword

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The Gundestrup Cauldron

Some new archaeological discoveries in France have shed more light on the legend of King Arthur.

Sites dated to around 300 B.C., when France was still Gaul, before the Romans came, include sacred ponds or bogs into which tribal rulers threw expensive items as sacrifices. Items like the Gundestrup Cauldron (above), from Denmark, represented no small portion of the ruler’s wealth.

They also threw in weapons, mostly swords or spearheads. The Icelandic sagas tell us of cheap swords available to anybody, that quickly got bent out of shape if you actually had to use them. But the swords cast into the bogs were kings’ swords, the best that money could buy: famous swords with names and pedigrees.

Young Arthur drew his first sword from a stone, which no one else could do. I believe that what he did was to invade a site worshiped by the crack Sarmatian cavalry left in Britain by the Romans. Originally from central Asia, the Sarmatians worshiped their pagan gods by heaping up a mound of wood or stone or earth, and planting a sword in the middle of it. I believe that what Arthur did was to seize that sword. Instead of killing him on the spot, the amazed Sarmatians became his followers. His knights.

But what about Arthur’s more famous sword, Excalibur? Where did he get Excalibur?

According to Thomas Malory, and for want of any contradictory account, Arthur went with Merlin to a “lake”, and there a hand and arm came up from the water, holding Excalibur: and it was given to Arthur for as long as he lived, although it had to be returned to the lake when he died.

Hmm… Could this have been one of those sacred lakes, a pagan holy place, where ancient British chiefs and kings sacrificed their most costly possessions?

If Arthur had such a sword, he would have aggressively demonstrated the ascendance of the Christian faith by appropriating well-known pagan relics to the service of Jesus Christ. By his time Christianity had made deep inroads into British paganism: in doing as he did, Arthur proclaimed the outcome of that religious struggle–victory for Christianity.

If Excalibur had been  a sacred sword… the whole story begins to make more sense.