• And why the pentangle is proper to that prince so noble
• I intend to now tell you though it may tarry my story
• It is a sign that Solomon once set on a time
• To betoken Troth, as it is entitled to do;
• For it is a figure that in it five points holdeth
• And each line is overlaps and is linked with another,
• And in every way it is endless; and the English, I hear,
• Everywhere name it the Endless Knot.
• So it suits well this knight and his unsullied arms;
• For ever faithful in five points and five times under each
• Gawain as good was acknowledged and as gold refined,
• devoid of every vice and with virtues adorned
The Sixth Door of Parsifal’s journey opens when the Moon occults the Royal Star Aldebaran, the Eye of Bull, in the constellation of Taurus near the Summer Solstice when the days are longest and the golden light of our yellow Sun is the strongest.
Unfortunately, there has been a concerted effort for centuries to minimize if not eradicate all information and practices associated with Citrinitas or the yellow phase of Alchemy. I tend to think that is because time in the crucible when the raw ore is heated until the precious metals of spirit melt and separate from the dross of our soul is a profoundly unpleasant experience for the individual ego. Those who aspire to material glory are mortified by the costs of spiritual tasks, and those who wish to wield temporal power resent those who radiate spiritual light. During these centuries of suppression, practitioners have been sought out and murdered, teachings destroyed, and any remaining knowledge distorted, misrepresented, and maligned.
Unfortunately, Wolfram does not appear to offer a whole lot more help on the subject as he abandons Parzival as protagonist at this point and picks up Sir Gawain for several sections. Once I put together the Lascaux image’s bird-mask and people’s flying experiences with the name Gawain meaning ‘Hawk of the May’, I began to have some context for Wolfram’s shift in protagonists however. Becoming aware of absences and misdirection led me to look for signs of one of the most quintessentially Arthurian, one of the most beloved and notable contemporary characters that is missing in Wolfram’s narrative:
• Merlin the Magician
Wolfram’s Magician turns out to be hidden in plain sight. A Merlin is a type of hawk, and sure enough, King Arthur’s stalwart knight and Parsifal’s insightful friend is Sir Gawain. Here is Wolfram’s Hawk, and it is worth noticing that while Merlin’s downfall is rooted in his relationship with a woman, Gawain’s ability to relate with women is the essence of his wizardry.
In other words, Gawain has won dominion over the Bull and succeeded at befriending the Seven Sisters. (Click here) As this illustration shows, the Heavenly Bull is no domestic short-horned milk-cow or placid ox. He is crowned with the long and twisting horns of the ancient Auroch. If you look carefully and with imagination, you can see that the Horns of the Bull can also be seen as the upraised wings of the Stooping Hawk. The one star that indicates the same part in both animals is their Eye, the Royal Star Aldebaran.
This ability to see both worlds at once, to see through the eyes of the Bull and of the Hawk, is Sir Gawain’s gift. That gaining this ability was an intrinsic aspect of the initiatory retreat is supported by the eye carved into the windowsill of the chamber at the Externsteine. The many possibilities for archeo-astronomical information to be encoded in this image make me think that understanding interconnections of the big picture, being able to perceive the web of relationships that connected heaven and earth, were as important as gaining ones visionary abilities
The three main story lines where Sir Gawain is the protagonist illustrate his ability to perceive more than the ordinary knight:
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
- Sir Gawain and the Castle of Wonders
- Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur’s court is feasting in Midwinter when the Green Knight rides in and demands that the King respond to his challenge. The challenge is to seek out and accept the same blow as the Green Knight receives a year and a day from the contest and, as champion, Sir Gawain accepts for his King. The Green Knight than offers his great axe to Gawain and bares his neck for the blow. Sir Gawain chops his head off cleanly and the Court is relieved that the contest is over. Then the Green Knight stands up, picks up his head and his axe and tells Sir Gawain he looks forward to seeing him next Midwinter at his own domicile, the Green Chapel.
Sir Gawain is reluctant and appalled by his agreement but as an honorable knight, seeks out the Green Chapel and his fate at the appointed time. The author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight describes his knightly character thus:
• On this beyond all things was his earnest thought
• That ever from the Five Joys all his valour he gained
• That to Heaven’s courteous Queen once came from her child
• For which cause the knight had in comely wise
• On the inner side of his shield her image depainted
• That when he cast his eyes thither his courage never failed
• The fifth five that was used, as I find by this knight,
• Was free-giving and friendliness first before all
• and chastity and chivalry ever changeless and straight,
• And piety surpassing all points; these perfect five
• Were hasped upon him harder than any man else.
• Now these five series, in sooth, were fastened on this knight,
• And each was knit with another and had no ending
• But were fixed at five points that failed not at all,
• Coincided in no line nor sundered either
• Not ending in any angle anywhere as I discover
• Where ever the process was put into play or passed to an end.
Valour, free-giving friendliness (generosity), and chivalry are also contemporary virtues, but chastity and piety have fallen from favor. Chastity now carries mostly negative connotations of celibacy, abstinence, repression, denigration, and denial of sexuality. Looking at chastity as sexual continence may bring us more into alignment with Sir Gawain’s experience of the word. Continence is commonly associated with being able to consciously choose when and where we urinate and defecate. Incontinence, whether constipation, the inability to relieve oneself, or peeing and pooping one’s pants as an adult, then is a sign something is seriously wrong. So chastity or sexual continence is simply:
- being aware of the sexual energy and impulses of oneself and others and
- Being conscious in how one directs and expresses one’s own sexuality.
Gawain’s piety is not sanctimonious, puritanical or punitive either. While pious is now widely used a derogatory term, implying that the person is ascetic, even miserly, and often cruel, refusing to engage in the pleasures of life and judging those who do harshly, Sir Gawain’s piety, his Five Joys received through his five senses, his experience of the material world, is instead the source of his Virtues. His piousness is expressed as his ongoing recognition that his daily life, his body, and the material realms, are gifts from, and sacred vessels of, the Divine. It is a tenant of Gnostic Christianity that the five wounds of the crucifixion are the suffering endured by those who are limited to their five senses:The resurrection is then the realization and experience of the spiritual or visionary realms. Perhaps this is why the pentacle and the pentangle are now associated with witchcraft, although according to this 14th century English poet they are a profoundly Christian symbol:
• First faultless was he found in his five senses
• And next in his five fingers he failed at no time
• And firmly on the Five Wounds all his faith was set
• That Christ received on the cross, as the creed tells us
Sir Gawain is given respite at the Green Knight’s home for three days and the two agree to exchange what each wins in their pursuits each day. His host successfully hunts the Hind, the Boar, and the Fox while Sir Gawain, is comforted by his host’s wife who joins him in his bed-chamber. Despite her many offers, he accepts but three kisses and a green garter from her. He gives his host the three kisses as agreed, but at his hostess’s request, keeps the garter for himself as she claims that it will save his life when the ax falls.
At first glance, Gawain has been put in no-win situation. He either breaks his word to his host or to the Lady of the house. A deeper look shows that he has been presented with a riddle. The honorable albeit archaic response would to have been to present his host with a riddle in return. This particular dilemma he finds himself in illuminates a profound principle shared by both the archaic and the Christian creeds and offers an insight that can reconcile their deadly conflict and insure the well-being of his community.
Especially in Midwinter, at the solstice, when the sun’s feeble rays barely peek above the horizon in the far North it is vital to remember that :
• It is in dying that we
• (And the Sun)
• Are (re)born into eternal life
When Gawain bares his neck to the Green Knight and the axe falls, the only injury Gawain receives is ‘a notch in his neck’ for his dishonesty in concealing the garter. The Green Knight is merciful because although Gawain does wish to live, his overweening desire in keeping the garter was to keep his word to the Lady.
Gawain is mortified by his shortcomings, but regains his honor when he responds to Camelot’s rejoicing at his return by showing them his scar and telling them his failings. JRR Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight includes a commentary where he ridicules Sir Gawain, writing:
“Gawain was guilty
only in so far as he had broken the rules
of an absurd game
imposed upon him by his host
(after he had rashly promised to do anything the host asked)
and even that was at the request of a lady,
made (we may note) after he had accepted her gift
and so was in a cleft stick.
Certainly this is an imperfection on some plane,
but on how high a plane
and of what importance?
The laughter of the court at Camelot
-and to what higher court in matters of honor could one go? –
is probably sufficient answer.”
According to Wolfram however, Camelot is divorced from the higher planes, so its judgment is superficial and corrupt, even endangering the higher court of the Grail Castle itself by taking Parsifal to its bosom regardless of his failure to heal the Fisher King.
Gawain sets off on his quest to the Castle of Wonders in response to Cundrie la Sorciere’s challenge to Camelot. She chastises those seated at the Round Table for being unable to recognize falsity in Parsifal, (click here) then challenges the Knights with the task of freeing the 400 royal women imprisoned in the Castle of Wonders where nothing is at it seems. Like most of us, Gawain has no idea of the ramifications and consequences of the actions he takes or the agreements he makes when he accepts Cundrie’s challenge. Convincing ourselves that wriggling out of even the smallest of them to save our skin or our reputation is acceptable, that first small self-deception, puts us on extremely slippery footing and that is exactly where Gawain finds himself when he enters the Castle of Wonders.
The Castle of Wonders appears unguarded and easy to enter, but first chamber he steps into has a floor as smooth and slippery as glass. It is empty except for the Wonder Bed. The Wonder Bed is wheeled and animate, whisking away from Gawain any time he attempts to approach it. He is hampered in his efforts as he now carries a heavy shield, which the ferryman has warned him he must never abandon if he is to survive. The Bed only stands still when he addresses it as a living being, and even then, it pauses only long enough for him to leap into the middle of it. Once he has achieved this position the Bed rackets about the room, crashing into the walls, and causing an unbearably thunderous din that reverberates throughout the Castle.
Crawling under his shield offers Gawain some respite from the din but even before the noise settles he finds himself being attacked, shot by hundreds of Shakespearean ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. He is bruised and battered by the time the bed and projectiles stop while his shield is dented by stones and pierced by arrows. Without his shield, he would not have survived. A club-wielding peasant garbed in fish-skins then appears. To Gawain’s humiliation, this unknightly character does not deign to fight him, but insults him and sends in an enormous lion instead. Gawain only succeeds in killing the lion after a fierce battle because the blood from their wounds gives him some traction on the slippery floor.
As neither the bed nor the floor offer any respite, after the battle he collapses unconscious upon his shield. He is then revived by the Ladies of the Castle who celebrate their freedom by introducing him to its Eye, a pillar of crystal that allows him to see for miles across the countryside. The Hawk of the May is bestowed his hawk’s eye view after he endures the trials of the Wonder Bed and succeeds in wrestling with his demons. He has demonstrated that even unconscious and near death, he abides by and takes respite in the shield of his Virtues; that he is the same person with the same values whether waking or sleeping. He has unified his practice and his worlds.
We have reduced the Gawain’s visionary realms to childish fairy tales in modern times, but the archaic version of Fairy Land is one of mature temptations and life –threatening trials. While living a life of honor and keeping one’s word in the twisting and illusory realms of vision and emotion often appears a ridiculous and unwieldy weight upon one’s more mundane path, that it is the only way to even survive long enough to win the Castle of Wonders and free the feminine principle imprisoned there. Valiant, generous, chivalrous, chaste, and pious, Sir Gawain is a shining example of the living alchemical yellow phase. He embodies spiritual gold:
• Therefore on his shining shield was shaped now this knot
• Royally with red gules upon red gold set:
• This the pure pentangle as people of learning have taught
In Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady, King Arthur’s court is feasting in Midsummer when the Loathly Lady rides in on a donkey and demands that the King answer her riddle. Sir Gawain accepts the challenge for his King and the Lady’s riddle is:
• What do women want
The full version of this challenge is the Quest for Sovereignty where three royal sons go out into the woods seeking their fate. The youngest meets an ugly old woman by a well who demands that he promise fulfill her request before he drinks. He is thirsty, so agrees. Once he has accepted her cup, the old hag then demands that he marry her. He is appalled but honorable so follows through. When they exchange their wedding kiss, she transforms into a young and beautiful woman. She then demands that he chose whether she be beautiful or faithful. Again, he is appalled, but has gained some small trust in her, so his reply is that she must choose, as he cannot. In restraining himself and giving her the choice, he wins both beauty and faithfulness and becomes King, wed to and Sovereign over the Land. Therefore, the courtly and correct answer is:
• Women want to be able to choose
Sir Gawain wins a beautiful and faithful Queen as his wife in both versions of the tale and that takes us to the next door on the initiatory journey.