The wealthy monks
Why do they not answer me?
Why do not they make me tremble?
Do they know what you when you are sleeping?
If you are a body
Or a soul
Alternatively, a secrecy of perception?
I wonder why their books do not tell
Of the seat of the soul or the form of its limbs
Through what part it pours out or how it breaths
What are its dregs or that mead is its best intoxication
There is not much to receive from the rulers of literature
They stand guard upon their walls and are difficult to talk too
There is not much to receive from those who shield themselves behind walls
They do not know the brindled ox of the heavens
With his thick head band and seven score knobs upon his collar
There is not much to receive from those who gossip
They know not on what day or by whom the king was sired
Or what hour in the serene day he was born
They know not his fate or what silver headed animal he keeps
Monks congregate like dogs in a kennel
From contact with their superiors they acquire knowledge
Is one the course of the wind? Is one the water of the sea?
Is one the unrestrainable tumult of the sparkling fire?
The monks know not when the deep night and dawn divide
Nor what the course of the wind is or who agitates it
In what place it dies away or in what land it roars
Adapted from Taliesin
The seventh door opens during the Dog days of August when the constellations of Orion and his Hounds, Canis Major and Minor, lie near the horizon of the predawn sky. The earliest known depiction of Orion, thought to be at least 32,000 years old, was found in a cave in the Ach valley near Toulous, France in 1979.
Artifacts of the Aurignacian culture are estimated to have been made as long as 40,000 years ago. They include figurines of mammoths, horses, and women as well as one of the earliest known flutes, and are one of the earliest cultures leaving evidence of religious and ritual activity. Their many voluptuous female figures have been interpreted as fertility icons, and this ancient rendering of Orion may well be related to fertility rites as well.
Remnants of the shamanic duties of those aligned with the celestial Huntsman and his Hounds were active at least through Medieval times in France. Transcripts of a French peasant accused of being a werewolf by the local representatives of the Christian Church indicate that the accused did not deny his association with the wolf spirit. Instead, he was appalled by the ignorance of his accusers, and insisted that he took his wolf form in order to descend into the underworld to battle the Devil for the well being of his village. He was adamant that if he did not fulfill these duties, the crops would not mature and the spring lambs would not thrive, that instead of fertile fields, there would be barren lands.
His views were in line with many indigenous traditions who consider wolves guardians and teachers, their example showing humans how to live in balance with each other and with the natural world.
• The wolf pack is usually an extended family made up of an alpha couple accompanied by siblings, cousins, and adolescents
• While the alpha pair may be the sole couple to produce pups, the entire pack engages in feeding and caring for the next generation.
• While wolf packs are renowned for their ability to bring down large animals such as full grown deer especially in winter, their diet varies with the season as they also feast on rapidly breeding smaller mammals such as mice and rabbits when their population explodes in the summer and fall
• Wolves are the guardians of the land as well as the herds, not only culling the injured, unfit, and aged, but preventing the devastating effects of over-grazing and erosion by keeping grazing animals moving
• Wolves eat a variety of wild plants that herbalists have found to have healing qualities
This French Werewolf was not alone in his persecution as Charlemagne founded the Luparii, the Royal Wolf Catchers, in 813, ostensibly to guard farm animals from predation by wolves. However the Luparii were held in high regard at court and were well rewarded for defending the kingdom against ‘predatory aggression’. While plenty of four-footed wolves were killed, wolf hunting was reserved for the aristocracy and Medieval hunts carried much symbolic meaning. Three centuries later, there is a record of William the Conqueror granting a lordship on the condition that the new noble defended the land against ‘enemies and wolves’.
Even a brief glance at historical eighth century Saxon nobles shows a plentiful variety of wolfish names including:
- Coenwulf, Coernwulf, Beornwulf all kings of Mercia from 796-829
- Wulfred, a Bishop of Litchfield and an Archbishop of Canterbury
- EthelWulf, King of Wessex 839-856
- half a dozen EaldWulf’s
- half a dozen Eardwulf’s
It is clear that many of the ‘wolves’ were leaders of the church and state and variations of ‘Wulf’ were popular and meaningful names among the leadership of non-Christian peoples of the times as well. One of the Germanic names for the Wolf that harkens to its shamanic roots is Widukind, or Child of the Forest. That those allied with the Wolf spirit were leaders and guardians of their people is hinted at by the historical Widukind who attempted to broker a peace treaty with Charlemagne in the late 700’s. Although the Germanic tribes had held off the Roman Empire for centuries, their ancient strategy of absorbing the impact of climate changes by changing venues like the wolves and the grazing animals was disrupted by the artificial boundaries of the Church and State.
After over a decade of active battles, and the loss of thousands of his people from starvation as well as injuries and enslavement, Widukind decided to convert to Christianity and swear his people’s allegiance to Rome. He agreed to a meeting near the Externsteine, but instead of a peace treaty there was a slaughter.That Charlemagne’s intention was genocide is supported by the Luparii reducing the number of French wolves below a viable breeding population, and the English Kings demonstrating their loyalty to the Church by not only demanding wolf trophies as part of their treaties, but instituting regulations demanding wolf hunts during their breeding and cubbing seasons.
One a side note, learning this piece of history gave me some insight into the German fascination with the Plains Indians of the American West as nearly the exact same scenario was played out a thousand years later when Crazy Horse brought his starving people in to negotiate with the American Army. Germans resonate with the Plains Indian’s plight so profoundly because Crazy Horse and his people were betrayed, captured, killed, and the survivors imprisoned on reservations unable to support them, repeating Widukind’s earlier tragedy.
Even this history of betrayal is echoed in the ancient tales of the skies however, as not only is:
• Betelgeuse a variable star, meaning that its brightness can fade from being among the top ten brightest stars to as low as the twentieth,
• its distinctive reddish cast mirrors the red star Antares or the Anti-hero (click here) in the opposing constellation of Scorpio.
Like Betelgeuse and Antares, the alchemical phase of Rubedo has its positive and negative attributes. Red is the color of the passionate inner drives, the fire that fuels Citrinitas, the yellow phase of alchemy, the actual process of learning how to separate one’s spiritual gold from the dross of material life (click here). This focus lost favor during alchemy’s heyday, and when the yellow phase was not entirely ignored, it was at best absorbed into the Rubedo or Red phase, which became the culmination of alchemical efforts.
Wolfram says that the act that destroyed the Round Table was its company honored Parzival after his murdering the Red Knight and taking his horse, weapons and armor when he had not earned them, and failing to heal the Fisher King during his visit to the Grail Castle. Wolfram also informs us that Parzival does not know how to ride, that he cannot control the Red Horse as it takes him where it will.
If what Wolfram means is that Parzival went directly to red, skipping any tempering experiences, then his story is both a cautionary tale about the consequences of excluding the yellow phase and a guide for those willing to set out on such a journey. In terms of social commentary, like the virginal Parzival, the celibate Cardinals of the Catholic Church put on their red robes although they have spent their lives denying their physical passions and avoiding the alchemical crucible of intimate relationships.
Charlemagne himself was cannonized by the Catholic Church and greatly rewarded for betraying and capturing Widukind and his ilk and killing or enslaving their people, much like Wolfram’s Camelot honored Parzival despite his murder of his cousin, the Red Knight, and his failure to relieve the suffering of the Fisher King, As the sick underbelly of the modern Catholic Church is exposed, it looks like Wolfram was telling us that men who claim to be spiritual leaders without learning how transmute their sexual energies are not only fooling themselves but doing great harm to their communities. His Quest for the Holy Grail is then truly the quest to be a mature man in productive relationships with wife and community that temper youthful idealism into genuine vision and pragmatic creativity.
Although dogs do not have anything like the prominent role horses do in Wolfram’s Parzival, there is one extremely telling incident. Sir Gawain has irrevocably fallen for the Lady Orgeluse who consistently and harshly rejects him. Although all Wolfram tells us at this point is that we should not judge Orgeluse for her abuse of Sir Gawain as we don’t know her background, we eventually learn from the perpetrator, Sir Gramoflanz himself, that he killed her husband, abducted Orgeluse against her will, and held her captive for a year, before releasing her. One result of that experience is that Orgeluse tells Gawain that only the praise of a wise man means anything to her.
Wolfram then shows us that the first breach in the armor of her resistance to Sir Gawain’s approaches comes about when she learns that he intervened in a rape case and had the perpetrator sent to live with the dogs for a time. This left me puzzling as to why she would see this as the act of a wise man; especially as the alternative was to hang the man and be done with him.
Obviously, how Orgeluse and Wolfram considered creatures of the canine persuasion is different from we are accustomed to perceiving them. Being sent to the doghouse now has connotations of shame and punishment, but in Wolfram’s view, such a sentence might have been more along the lines of a mandatory spiritual initiation meant to restore the perpetrator to wholeness by healing his energetic wounds, the psychic impotence that made him resort to rape instead of relationship.
The Norse peoples had a specific term, hamrstoli, for this type of psychic blindness and spiritual impotence. According to the tragic Norse saga of the Atlamal, for the Wolves of the Sea to be whole, both healthy and holy, they had to be able to remember, be aware of, and be as active in the visionary realms as they were in the material realms of their daily lives:
• A person with vitality or hamr is whole, healthy, and joyful. Those that are hamramr are filled with the joy of living. They are strong of soul and lucky in life and all around them prospers.
• A person with a great soul, a person of royal abilities, can not only remember and understand their dreams, they may transfer their haminga, their skills, strength, and wisdom, to others as a movement of their life force.
• These individuals may also multiply their foresight, their hugr, sending their thoughts, intentions, and concerns out to work among their people.
• Not least, these individuals are known for being able to manifest a tangible physical presence of their ‘silver headed animal’ that is not necessarily bound by the conventions of the material world. Known as to the Norse as Fylgya, but perhaps more familiar to us now as shape-shifters, these beings often have unusual powers and abilities.
Fylgya are said to appear in the shape of one’s courage and many stories about them concern battles where they appear in places distant from the sleeping body, and display extreme strength and endurance. However, not only are Fylgya as vulnerable to harm as the physical body, a wound taken by one aspect must be healed in both worlds. Those men and women who are unable to remember or understand their dreams, are also those whose spirits, whose Fylgya have been wounded. These individuals are hamrstoli, deeply wounded in their vital essence. They have lost their luck and are without joy in their lives. No longer whole, they do not have their full soul powers. Like Wolfram’s Fisher King or Goethe’s Faust, their suffering blights their lands, their relationships, and their people instead of blessing them.
Tales of the Irish Hero Cuchulain, open yet another window into the world view of those aligned with the Celestial Hounds. Cuchulain means Hound not Hawk, but he shares many of the same mythological traits and trials as Sir Gawain. The Hound is also renowned for his clarity and dispensation of justice, not vengeance, as well as his success with the ladies. He prevails because:
‘There is none among all the heroes
of Ulster to equal you
Even better, there a few tidbits of archeo-astronomical details regarding Cuchulain’s conception and birth available. We are told that Cuchulain is the son of the god Lugh of the Long Hand. Cuchulain’s celestial origins are based on:
• Lugh arriving on Lammas Day in early August just as Orion and his Hounds reappear in the dawn skies
• Cuchulain’s conception is in late October when the Orionid meteor shower fills the sky with spears of life/light
• Cuchulain is born nine months later on Lammas day itself.
Although Sirius is the best known star in the constellation of Orion in our times, that the initiatory doorway we are looking for is actually opened by the moon occulting the variable supergiant red star Betelgeuse that marks Orion’s right shoulder, is indicated by the 86 notches on the ancient ivory tablet. The number 86 is not only:
• the number of days that Betelgeuse is below the horizon and invisible to human eyes in the northern hemisphere
• which happens to begin in early May, coinciding with Parzival and Gawain’s visionary retreat
it is also the difference between the number of days in the solar year:
• and the number of days in a human woman’s pregnancy
• and the number of days in the superior synodic cycle of Venus when it rises with the Sun
Although there is argument about just what ‘Bet’ means in the original Arabic, ‘algeuse’ or in the original ‘al-Jauza’ is a feminine name meaning ‘The Central One’. Betelgeuse is also the star central to the Winter Hexagon, an asterism that binds several constellations together.
The stars of the Winter hexagon include:
• Sirius is the Dog Star in Canis Major, and Orion’s arrow restoring potency to the castrated sky-king,
• Procyon in Canis Minor is the girdle of bleary eyed woman (Gomeisa is the bleary eyed woman)
• Rigel in Orion is the Dawn Star or Aurvandi’s ( the luminous wanderer’s) left toe in Norse mythology
• Aldebaran in Taurus is the eye of the bull (click here)
• Pollux ( an orange giant) in Gemini is consistently the immortal twin of the Dioscuro, the Swan twins that are born of a mortal mother and divine father.
• Capella in the constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer, is the little doe –the female goat that points to the Pleiades (click here), she owned by Amalthea, Zeus’ nurse, and her horn is the cornucopia,
Betelgeuse is then the Lady in Red, best known in Medieval times as Mary Magdalen, whose titles included ‘Lady of the Wolves’. Tackling the tales behind the Winter Hexagon in full as well as the Venus synodic cycles will have to be the subjects of whole other posts. What is relevant to this post is that Betelgeuse is the feminine principle that binds the parts into a whole. Sir Gawain, as a fully initiated man (click here) who can consciously chose where and how to express his sexual energies, is the one capable of perceiving, honoring, and renewing this quality of the feminine in a way that creates and sustains life in all realms. And the ancient Aurignacian carving does show Orion’s weapon hanging between his knees, not by his side, just as the Welsh Bard Taliesin wrote in his poem the Battle of the Trees:
I was truly in the enchantment
With Dylan, the son of the wave.
In the circumference, in the middle,
Between the knees of kings,
Scattering spears not keen,
From heaven when came,
To the great deep,
In the battle there will be
Four score hundreds,
That will divide according to their will.
They are neither older nor younger,
Than myself in their divisions.
Canhwr are born,
every one of nine hundred.
Which also leaves us with a riddle, as the word Canhwr is left untranslated in the poem precisely because it is an ancient and obscure term without an agreed upon meaning. I tend to think that anytime these ancient poems baffle us modern peoples with obscure indefinable items numbered in the hundreds, it may well be because we have lost our connection to the infinite night skies. My vote, since the Orionid meteor showers can be brilliant, plentiful, and are reputed to be prolific in fertilizing the earthly realms, is that the Canhwr are Orion’s semi-celestial offspring.
Dr. Michael Rappengluck for his archeo-astronomical insights that anchor my flights of fancy
Renate Otto-Walters for her notes on the historical Widukind
Matthew Woods for bringing the trials of a French Werewolf to my attention