View Full Version : The Hyperborean Theme and the Tradition in Ireland

Sunday, October 9th, 2005, 02:06 PM
By Julius Evola,
The Mystery of the Grail: Initiation and Magic in the Quest for the Spirit (Inner Traditions)

The Hyperborean Theme

Another fundamental traditional teaching, which I have discussed elsewhere with corresponding documentation,[1] is the location of the center or primordial seat of the Olympian civilization of the Golden Age in a Boreal or Nordic-Boreal region that became uninhabitable. A tradition of Hyperborean origins, in its original Olympian form or civilizing deeds performed by races that spread into the Eurasian continent during the period from the end of the glacial age through the Neolithic Era. Some of these races must have come directly from the North; others seem to have had as their country of origin a Western-Atlantic land in which some kind of replica of the Northern center had been established. This is the reason why various concordant symbols and memories refer to a land that sometimes is Northern-Arctic and other times Western.

Among the many designations of the Hyperborean center that came to be applied also to the Atlantic center was Thule, or “White Island”, or “Island of Splendor” (the Hindu Sveta-dvipa; the Hellenic Leuke island;[2] the “original seed of the Arian race” or Ariyana Vaego in ancient Iran); and “Land of the Sun”, or “Land of Apollo”, that is, Avalon. Concordant memories in all Indo-European traditions talk about the disappearance of such a seat (which later on was mythologized) following an ice age or a flood. This is the real, historical counterpart of the various allusions to something that, beginning with a given period, has allegedly been lost or become hidden and untraceable. This too is the reason why the “Island” or “Land of the Living” (the term “living” here referring to the members of the original divine race), which is the land to which the well-known symbols of the Supreme Center of the world allude, was often confused with the “region of the dead” (the term “dead” here referring to the extinct race). Thus, for instance, according to a Celtic doctrine, mankind’s primordial ancestor was the god of the dead (Dispater) who dwells in a faraway region beyond the ocean, in those “faraway islands” whence, according to the Druids’ teachings, some of the prehistoric inhabitants of Gaul came directly.[3] Moreover, according to a classical tradition, after having been the lord of this earth, the king of the Golden Age, Kronos-Saturn, was dethroned and castrated (that is, deprived of the power to beget, to give life to a new stock); he still lives, though asleep, in a region located in the Far North, close to the Arctic sea, which was also called the Cronid Sea.[4]

This generated various conditions, but essentially it is always the same transposition in superhistory, under the species of a latent or invisible reality or center, of ideas referring to the Hyperborean theme. For my purposes, I will need to discuss briefly the form that these memories assumed in the Celtic and especially in the Irish cycle; the traditions concerning Avalon, the Tuatha de Danaan , and the kingdom of Arthur. The scope of these traditions is more than local and historical; often, even the geographical data appearing in them have a merely symbolic meaning, as is often the case in these instances.

[1] “Revolt Against The Modern World”, Chapters 24-26.
[2] Especially in the tradition referred to by Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheca Historica II, 47), the...White Island, is identified with the land of the Hyperboreans; it was situated in the ocean, before the land of the Celts; it is also indicated as Apollo’s island.
[3] The Irish name “Land Beneath the Waves” (Tir fa Tonn), applied to an image of this region, incorporates a memory of its sinking and submersion.
[4] Here it is the land of Thule, which, according to Strabo (ca. 63 B.C.E. — after 21 C.E.) was located at six days of navigation from the coast of Britannia, close to the frozen sea. In regard to the heroes of the primordial age, there is an interesting tradition according to which Kronos, already king of that age, often appears as king of heroes (Hesiod, Opera et dies, 168-71).

The Tradition in Ireland

The legendary history of Ireland is based on the events of races that later invaded it and dominated it, coming from a mysterious Northern-Atlantic center, to which they sometimes returned. The Historia britorum often gives to this center the name Hiberia, but in truth such a term is only an imaginative rendering of the Irish names Magh-Mo, Tragh-Mor, or Magh-Mell, designating the “Land of the Dead”, namely, the primordial Northern-Atlantic center. There are many stories surrounding such races: they were in perennial conflict with the Fomors, giants or dark and monstrous beings who, in the Christianized elements of the saga, were significantly assimilated to the antediluvian giants or to savage beings descending from Shem and from Cain. These Fomors are the equivalent of the “elemental natures” or giants who were the mortal foes of the Aesir, the “divine heroes” in the Nordic tradition of the Edda. The Fomors represent the powers of a cycle of a Bronze Age, the obscure telluric forces that were associated with the depths of the waters (in the Ulster cycle), just as the telluric Poseidon previously was. In other words, they correspond to the forces of the original cycle that became materialized and degenerated in a titanic sense. This latter aspect can be derived from Celtic traditions, considering that the king of the Fomors, Tethra, was sometimes believed to be born in the mysterious land beyond the ocean, and that the unconquerable tower of Conaan (another Fomor king), which was located in the “Glass Island in the middle of the sea”, is, after all, an obvious symbol of the primordial center.

In any event, the Fomors, in their essential aspect as an obscure and telluric race, are defeated by a first nucleus of civilizers who came to Ireland from the Atlantic region and from the race of Partholan. Eventually this race became extinct and was followed by a second people of the same origins, the race of Neimheidh. That name, which derives from a Celtic root meaning “heavenly”, but also “ancient”, “venerable”, and “sacred”, allows us to conceive this new cycle as the creation of the representation of the primordial tradition still in a pure, Olympian state.

A symbolic episode during the age of Neimheidh recalls a counterpart in the Edda. In the Edda, the Aesir, or “divine heroes”, turn to the elemental beings to make them rebuild the fortress of the central region, Midgard’s Asgard. As a reward fur such a job, the giants want the divine woman Freya, and also the moon and sun. After they are refused (the Aesir having thwarted this usurpation of the forces from above, brought about by their employment of elemental powers) a struggle ensues, which culminates in the fatal “twilight of the gods”. Likewise, in the Irish cycle, Neimheidh employs the Fomors to build a fortress, but then, fearing that they may occupy it, he exterminates them. This is to no avail, since the descendants of Neimheidh end up being subjected to the Fomors, who inhabit the Tor-Inis, a fortress in an island located northwest of Ireland. In this place, during an attempted rebellion, Neimheidh’s descendants are massacred, just as in the saga of the Edda the struggle against elemental forces ends at first in a defeat of the Aesir. In both cases, we most likely have the figuration of the advent of a “titanic” cycle on the ruins of a civilization that is directly derived from the primordial one.

At this point of the unfolding of the Irish legend, an attempt at heroic restoration occurs. It is the cycle of the Tuatha de Danaan, a name that means “the people of the goddess Anu or Dana”. This race, on the one hand, is believed to have come to Ireland from “heaven” —— hence, according to the Leabhar na huidhre (Book of the dun cow), “their wisdom and sublimity of their knowledge.” On the other hand, they are believed to have acquired a supernatural knowledge in the Hyperborean region. [1] These two versions do not contradict each other, but rather shed light on each other, owing both to the more-than-human character of the primordial center, and to the fact that, according to the legend, the race of the Tuatha derived from surviving members of the Neimheidh race. These survivors allegedly traveled to the Hyperborean or Western-Atlantic land in order to acquire supernatural knowledge, which explains a relationship with certain mystical objects, more on which later.

Since the race of Neimheidh was the “heavenly” and “ancient” race that was swept away by a titanic cycle, the overall meaning is probably that this was a reintegrating contact with the original spiritual center (a center that is both heavenly and, in the geographic transposition of the memory, Hyperborean or Western-Atlantic). This contact reanimates and bestows a heroic form to the new stock, the Tuatha de Danaan, who eventually defeat the Fomors and similar races (the Firbolgs) and conquer Ireland. [2] The leader of the Tuatha, Ogme, is a “solar” figure (Grian Ainech), endowed with traits similar to those of the Doric Heracles. Ogme eventually captures the sword of the king of the Fomors.

However, the rule of the Tuatha also ended. The Leabhar gabhala (Book of invasions) mentions the advent in Ireland of a new race, that of the “sons of Mileadh”, whose physiognomy is not clear. In this race the warrior element predominates —— it seems that Mileadh has the same root as miles (soldier) —— yet it is not distinct from residues of the highest tradition proper to the previous cycle of the Tuatha. Thus even in the civilization of Mileadh (or what was known as the culture of the Milesians —— Galactica Editor) we find the symbolism of the “central seat”. The constitution of this people is feudal, with a supreme regality established in Tara, in the “Land of the Middle” (Meadhon), which already had been a sacred center of the Tuatha. Their king used to be consecrated by the “stone of destiny” (lia-fail) , more on which later. This too belonged to the tradition of the Tuatha. As for the Tuatha themselves, according to some texts they allegedly left the country, assuming an invisible form as the inhabitants of marvelous “subterranean” palaces or of mountainous caves inaccessible to mortal men, among whom they appear only in exceptional cases. According to other texts, they returned to their original home in Avalon. [3]

According to what has been said, the two versions are equivalent, since they are two different figurations of the primordial center that became hidden (“subterranean”) and inaccessible. In Celtic traditions, images of the Atlantic “island” of Avalon continued to be applied to it. Such an island was mainly conceived, in later times, as a place inhabited by women who attract heroes there to make them immortal. The name Avalon was explained on the basis of the Cymric term afal, which means “apple”, or “Island of Apples.” [4] This is naturally reminiscent of the island of the Hesperides, “beyond the ocean”, with the symbolic golden apples that Heracles captured in yet another of the labors that won him Olympian immortality. (This is also reminiscent of the Norse myth of Idunna and her golden apples, known to bestow "immortal youth" to any who ate them --- Rory Dubhdara, Galactica Editor) The supernatural women of the island of Avalon apparently possess the gift of health: in the legend of Tir na Nog they declare that in their land “there is no death nor dissolution of the body”, and that in it the hero Oisin will be crowned “King of Eternal Youth.” [5]

At the same time, Avalon, the “White Island”, [6] has also the value of a “polar” and “solar” island. Avalon, according to another possible etymology, is none other than the island of Apollo, the Greek god who was called by the Celts Ablun or Belen ; thus this island represents the solar land and the Hyperborean region, since Apollo had also been considered a solar king of the Golden Age and of the Hyperborean region. [7] The frequent confusion of this island with the “Glass Island” must be due to a general symbolism of glass walls and even of walls of air, signifying an invisible defense surrounding some places, blocking their entrance, and also, according to yet another symbol, of a fiery revolving wall around this island. These are variations on the theme of inviolability, which was always attributed to the Supreme Center.

The text known as the Battle of Magh-Tured (sections 3-6) relates that the Tuatha brought with them from the Northern-Atlantic seat four objects that were strictly related to the teaching they received there: a stone, a spear, a sword, and a bowl. The stone is the “fatidic stone” or “royal stone”, so called because, acting as a sort of oracle, it allows one to recognize the legitimate king among various pretenders to the throne. The spear is the spear of Lug, the god of thunder, of which it is said that “never was a battle lost by him who brandished it.” The sword is the invincible and inexorable sword of Nuada. Finally, the bowl of Dagde is able to magically satiate with its contents any number of warriors. These objects of the Tuatha will reappear in corresponding objects of the Grail cycle, just as the Grail’s seat will shown to be in close relation to the very island of Avalon, or “White Island.”

In the traditions gathered in the Annals of the Four Teachers we find very visibly the theme of the struggle and of the victory as a test. An ever-recurring formula is: “King X fell to Y, who became king instead.” Its deepest meaning reminds us of the legend of the King of the Woods of Nemi, which I have discussed in my Revolt Against the Modern World. In this legend, to defeat and kill a given person appears to introduce one directly to the regal and priestly function held by that person, and also to the quality of becoming the bridegroom of the “divine woman.”[8] Medieval chivalric romance is filled with variations on this theme: the test of arms introduces, often almost automatically, the possession of a woman, who goes from one hero to another. On the basis of the so-called love right, according to the ethics of this literature, it was regarded almost as a natural thing for a knight to desire his own lord’s wife, provided he believed to be and could prove to be better than he in the test of arms.[9] The peculiar character that all this presents, if taken literally, and its scarce correspondence with the effective customs of the time, should already induce us to suppose a hidden content as the true meaning of such adventures.[10] In these adventures, moreover, one finds distant echoes of the theme of the selection of that virile quality which is most fit to qualify one to obtain possession of the “woman”.

According to the Historia regum britanniae, Britain was originally inhabited by giants. The main one among them was called Goemagot. Brute, conceived as one of the descendants of the Trojans who founded Rome, exterminated these giants and established the Britannic tradition. Goemagot visibly corresponds to Gog and Magog; this is indeed a significant biblical echo. Gog and Magog were demonic populations that will play an important role in the imperial myth. They correspond to the Fomors, to the “elemental beings” or rinthursi, to whom the “divine heroes” of the Edda (i.e., the Aesir) block the path with a wall, thus preventing them from occupying the “Seat of the Center”, the Midgard, which is a particular representation of the primordial center. In a certain sense they represent the demonic character of the world of the masses.

The Annals of the Four Teachers mentions several revolts against the sacred dynasty of the Tuatha de Danaan and against the later warrior dynasty of the sons of the Mileadh. These insurrections were sparked by the race of the Fir-Domhnain or “race of the abyss”, a telluric race associated with degenerated residues of previous inhabitants of Ireland, such as the Firbolgs. Finally, we find mention of a “plebeian race” (aithe-ach-tuatha), which during a feast day massacres the nobility and induces the Four Lords to rebel against the supreme lord of the Seat of the Center. As a punishment for such violence the land is stricken by a widespread sterility, accompanied by all sorts of plagues: the kingdom will remain in this state of desolation until the son of the last king, who had been defeated and killed, will return to his father’s land. In the Eastern saga of Alexander, the devastation and the sterility of “all the waters, so severe that it left no potable water", are referred to the time of the advent of the people of Gog and Magog. This is the same condition that affects the kingdom of the Grail, which became the gaste Terre, the land ravaged because of the Dolorous Stroke, a condition that will last until the arrival of the avenging and restoring hero. This body of ancient tradition and Celtic pre-Christian symbols presents the principal themes that will be embodied again in the Grail cycle. The next link in the chain is the legend of King Arthur.

[1] Battle of the Magh-Tured, 1-3.
[2] To this we may relate the tradition referred by Plutarch, according to whom in the Boreal land Heracles’ stock (the heroic cycle) allegedly mixed with that of Kronos (primordial cycle), bringing about a civilization “similar to the Hellenic one” (the Olympian-heroic civilization of which Heracles was the symbol): “Thus Heracles is attributed the highest honor, and after him, Kronos” (De facie in orbe lunae, 26).
[3] C. Squire, The Mythology of Ancient Britain and Ireland (London, 1909). The tradition of the Tuatha continues somewhat in the heroic cycle of the Ulster, who were regarded as their descendants, with a solar character analogous to that of Greek heroes.
[4] From the woman of the faraway island Condla receives an apple that, no matter how much one eats of it, always grows back and reawakens in him an invincible nostalgia. This is the theme of the cornucopia, which will appear also in the Grail, together with the nostalgia that the latter induces in those who have once seen it. [5] The term avallach means apple, the apple that bestows immortality.
[6] The names Albion, referring to England, and Albania, referring to a part of it, come from an application to these lands of this ancient image of the White Island or Island of Splendor. In Hindu tradition the seat of Vishnu, the solar god who carries the Hyperborean cross or swastika, is called Sveta dvipa.
[7] One of the figurations of the land I am talking about is the so-called ten-magh-trogaigi, which includes the following symbols characteristic of the central seat: regal women; the silver tree with the sun at the top; the tree of victory; a fountain; a bowl containing a beverage that never runs out. All of these symbols will appear again in the knightly sagas.
[8] Revolt Against the Modern World, trans. Guido Stucco (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995), chapter 2.
[9] In Le Chevalier de la charrette, Arthur’s wife will be taken away by an armed knight who challenges Arthur, provided he can win the duel.
[10] Note the peculiar character of the knightly law (if taken literally) according to which the winner automatically inherited the vanquished’s lady or “regal woman” and had to possess her, more as a duty than as a right.

The Arthurian Cycle

In all the forms of this legend, the historical reality of Arthur (who allegedly was the dux bellorum of the Nordic Cimres as they struggled against the Anglo-Saxons between the fifth and sixth century C.E.), is secondary compared to the aspect according to which we are led to see in his kingdom an image of the central regal function strictly connected to the Hyperborean tradition, to the point that it gained a value as this function in itself, with symbolic and supra-historical characters. Thus the relation between Arthur’s kingdom and England becomes accidental; in medieval literature this kingdom had instead a supra-national meaning, and it embraced the best chivalry. The suggestiveness that it exercised on the heroic medieval Christianity was so great that (a) the latter came to see in Arthur its symbolic leader and (b) the ambition of every knight was to become a member of the mysterious Order of King Arthur, which is in itself a particularly significant fact.

The name Arthur is susceptible to various interpretations, the most reliable of which attributes to it the Celtic words arthos (bear) and viros (man). Nennius had already explained: Arthur latine sonat ursum horriblem.[1] This meaning of a dreadful virile force is connected with a symbolism of Hyperborean origin and at the same time points to the idea of a central or “polar” function. In fact, the bear is one of the sacred symbols of the ancient Nordic cult and simultaneously, in astronomic symbolism, corresponds to the “polar” constellation Ursa Major. Moreover, in the corpus of traditional texts, symbols and names eventually establish a relation between this constellation (with the symbolism of the pole or of the center referred to it) and Thule, a name designating the Hyperborean “White Island”, the traditional center.[2] Thus the polar, the Hyperborean, and the regal elements converge in the figure of Arthur. The unilaterally virile and warrior aspect that could be supposed in Arthur as an ursus horribilis is also modified in the legend by Arthur’s being always accompanied, as some kind of complement or counterpart, by Myrddhin or Merlin, who holds a spiritual knowledge and power. This Merlin seems less a distinct person and more the personification of the transcendent and spiritual side of Arthur himself.[3]

The strict connection between the warrior and the spiritual principles already characterizes the chivalry of King Arthur’s court as well as the meaning of the most typical adventures attributed to its members. The Knights of the Round Table, that is, of King Arthur, are not mere warriors:

And when they are chosen to be of the fellowship of the Round Table, they think themselves more blessed and more in worship than if they got half the world; and ye have seen that they have lost their fathers and mothers, and all their kin, and their wives and their children, for to be of the Fellowship.[4]

The Grail itself may represent the transcendent element by which this knighthood aspired to be complemented: this will be clearly seen in the versions of the legend in which Arthur’s kingdom is confused with the Grail’s. At this point it may be worth recalling the episode concerning the stones of Stonehenge, which still exist and are a source of interest and bewilderment, once it is a mystery how these gigantic blocks could have been cut and carried so long ago to the place where they have been found; these stones appear to be the remains of a great solar temple dating back to the Megalithic or to the Neolithic. Merlin, by ordering his warriors to go fetch such huge stones from faraway peaks, says: “Go to work, brave warriors, and learn, by rolling forward these stones, whether physical strength surpasses the spirit or whether the spirit surpasses physical strength.” The warriors prove unable to do this, but Merlin is able to accomplish this task laughingly and effortlessly. That the warrior virtue had, in the Arthurian cycle, a spiritual reference point can be seen from this exhortation in the same text, the Historia regum britanniae: “Fight on for your own land, and even welcome death, if necessary; for death is a victory and the liberation of the soul.” This is exactly the ancient view of the mors triumphalis, which is a main feature of the ethics of heroic traditions.

According to the legend, Arthur demonstrated his innate right to be the legitimate king of all England by passing the so-called test of the sword, namely, by successfully taking a sword out of a great quadrangular stone on the altar of the temple, obviously a variation of the “stone of kings” that belonged to the ancient tradition of the Tuatha de Danaan. [5] Here we find a double, convergent symbolism. On the one hand, we have the general symbolism of the “foundation stone”, which hints at the polar idea; thus the allegory and the myth allegedly refer to a virile power (i.e., the sword) that needs to be drawn from that principle. On the other hand, to take the sword out of the stone may also signify the freeing of a certain power from matter, since the stone often represents this meaning.

This also agrees with another episode in the legend, that in which Arthur, led by Merlin, seizes the sword Caliburn or Excalibur, which is held by a mysterious arm hovering over the waters. [6] But this weapon, forged in Avalon, is related to the Supreme Center; its being held above the water symbolizes a force detached from the conditions of the material, passional, and contingent life, to which a fundamental aspect of symbolism of water always referred. Such a life must be overcome, not only by those who yearn to receive a regal mandate from the “center” and become leaders of men in a higher sense, but also by every knight who wants to be worthy of belonging to the followers of Arthur and ultimately to find the Grail again.

Among the themes proper to the ancient Brittanic tradition, I will mention again the institution of the Round Table and the symbolism of King Arthur’s seat. Concerning the latter, we often find the recurrence of the famous symbols of the inaccessible land: according to Andrea Cappellano, Arthur’s kingdom separated from the human world by a large river, and it can be accessed only by crossing a dangerous bridge. This kingdom is defended by giants; in it there is a castle that is constantly revolving. In this castle, which is called “regal castle” (Caer Rigor) or “rich men’s castle” (Caer Gould), there is a supernatural vessel that, according to the tradition of The Spoiling of Annwn, was taken by King Arthur from a king of the “other world”. This vessel —— which, like the Grail in the castle of the “rich” king, is a facsimile of the vessel Dagde, one of the symbols proper to the Hyperborean tradition of the Tuatha de Danaan —— “satiates” everybody; heals all wounds, and protects from the erosion of time, all the while denying its gifts to cowards and oath breakers.

Such a seat, as a revolving castle (Caer Sidi), is one and the same with the “rotating island” that in the ancient Celtic saga is often the equivalent of the Glass Island and, in general, of Avalon; here we definitely find an allusion to the polar land that spins around its axis and carries along the world in its rotating motion. This is a visible reminder of the image of the Universal Ruler (cakravartin), an expression that literally means “the spinner of the wheel”, in reference to him who, as an immobile center, moves the wheel of the regnum and of the ordered universe.

These ideas can also be found in the symbolism of the Round Table, which was instituted by Arthur, under Merlin’s advice, to characterize the knightly order of which he was the supreme leader. According to Sir Thomas Malory’s text, the Round Table was built as an image of the world; in it the entire universe, the earthly and the heavenly, is believed to find shelter. [7] In other texts, a reference is made to the course of the stars and to the rotation of the heavens in relation to an unmovable center. From this it can be clearly seen that the knights who sit at the Round Table are also the representatives of the ordering central power.

In different versions these knights of the Round Table, or at least the best among them, are twelve in number; this points to a visible correspondence with the twelve peers who in the Roman de Brut “divide the earth in twelve parts, each one taking one part as his estate, and calling himself its king.” Twelve is a solar number that always appeared, in various forms, wherever the establishment of a traditional center was either accomplished or attempted: for instance, the twelve thrones of Midgard; the twelve supreme Olympian gods; the twelve stumps of the Delphic center; the twelve Roman lectors; the twelve residents of Avallonia; and the twelve counts/paladins of Charlemagne. Moreover, in the cycle of the Grail and of King Arthur, such symbolism was connected with a further theme, that of the Siege Perilous, a seat at the Round Table purposely left vacant and reserved for an awaited and predestined knight, superior to everybody else, who sometimes is portrayed as the thirteenth knight and who clearly corresponds to the same supreme function of a center, of a leader or pole for the twelve, and who is the image or representative of the cakravartin or Universal Ruler. [8]

Naturally, when the theme of the Siege Perilous appears, one must think about a state of involution of Arthur’s kingdom or of decadence of his representatives, such that it necessitates a restoration. Ideally, this is the point at which the Knights of the Round Table go in search of the Grail and at which, in the corresponding literature, the adventures of the Grail and those of the knights of King Arthur are inextricably connected. Generally speaking, the kingdom of Arthur is identified with that of Locris or Logres, an ancient designation of England, like “Albania”, or “White Island”, which was regarded as the seat of the Grail. The knights of Arthur go in search of the Grail in order to restore the kingdom to its ancient splendor and to destroy the magic spells that, according to the Mabinogion, have stricken the land. The Grail is the symbol of that which has been lost and must be found again. A person must ensure that the Grail manifests again its virtues; often this person is also the knight who will sit at the Siege Perilous.

In relation to all of this, the figure of King Arthur appears to be split in two. On the one hand, there is a suprahistorical King Arthur who symbolizes a function; on the other hand, there is a King Arthur who, as a historical representative of this function, is at the center of events that have a fatal outcome and that can be connected to the ancient tales concerning the destruction and the disappearance of the Tuatha de Danaan and their descendents. At this point, without anticipating anything substantial, I will briefly refer to the epilogue of the ancient legend of Arthur, in which we find the recurrence of the symbolism of the woman.

Two characters attempt to steal Arthur’s woman, Quennuwar (that is, Guinevere, a name that means “white spirit”, confirming her symbolic character). The first of these characters is Maelvas, who takes her to his own town, Glastonbury, identified with the oceanic Glass City and with Avalon (Glastonia, id est, urbs vitrea —— etiam insula Avalloniae celebriter nominator). Consequently, the Glass Island is besieged; eventually a reconciliation is achieved. At this point a Christian element sneaks into the legend, since in this circumstance Arthur allegedly gives away the island as an estate to a Church representative, granting him immunity. In reality, this points again to an attempt, on the part of the Christian tradition, to replace the Celtic-Hyperborean tradition by appropriating all of its main themes.

Glastonbury was one of the main centers of the spread of Christianity in England; to gain more prestige, it attempted to absorb in a Christianized form the previous Nordic-Celtic traditions, until it eventually claimed for itself the role of ancient Avalon. According to the main text on the subject, the De antiquitate glastoniensis ecclesiae, Glastonia, or Glastonbury, was originally called ygnis gutrin, ygnis in Breton meaning insula (island) and gutrin meaning vitrea (vessel); with the arrival of the English people, it became Glastiburi (from Glas = vitrum and buria = civitas), or Glastiberia.[9] The story of Arthur’s donation of the island to the Church is some kind of excuse for a “traditional succession” fabricated by Christian missionaries. Nor did the forgery end there: in reference to the above-mentioned tragic epilogue of the ancient legend, it was claimed that Arthur died and that his sepulcher was located in Glastonbury. Thus the ancient center was retained, this time with the new meaning of the center of missionary Christianity.

Second, while Arthur is attempting to realize his legendary world empire and to conquer even Rome in order to be crowned emperor therein, his nephew Mordred, who remained at home, usurps the throne and takes possession of Arthur’s woman, Guinevere. In the war that ensues the traitor is killed, but the best knights of the Round Table also die. Arthur himself is mortally wounded; he is taken to Avalon, that the health-restoring techniques of the women inhabiting that land (especially Morgande’s) may heal him and allow him to resume his function. [10] But Arthur’s wounds (especially the one produced by a poisoned spear, according to some writers) open up again every year while his faithful subjects at home vainly await his return. There is a tradition, however, according to which one day Arthur will return from Avalon to resume his reign: this is why the Britons, since then, never wanted to appoint another king. [11] In other forms of the legend —— for instance, in the Otia imperialia by Gervasius of Tilbury —- Arthur is portrayed lying in bed in a wonderful palace located on top of a mountain. According to another version, which is tendentiously Christian, Arthur has “died” and his body has been buried in that abbey of Glastonbury, which, as we have seen, was portrayed as Avalon itself.

All of this may be referred to as a crisis and to an interregnum that will be followed by the quest of the Grail. In the meantime we have identified another fundamental theme in the Grail cycle: the wounded king who waits to be healed in an inaccessible and mysterious seat, so that he may “return” once again. We should recall, likewise, the other preexistent theme in the Celtic saga, namely, the kingdom stricken by devastation and by barrenness owing to the plebian revolt or to the king’s wound caused by a spear or a flaming sword.

[1] S. Singer, Die Arthur Sage (Bern-Leipzig, 1926), 17.
[2] R.Guenon, Le Roi du monde, chapter 10.
[3] After all, the name Bear (Bjorn) was applied in Nordic traditions to Thor, who is one of the heavenly heroes or Aesir, struggling against elemental beings; in the Ynglingasaga, the bear and the wolf are forms taken by Odin, the supreme chief of Valhalla and of Midgard, or “Central Seat”.
[4] Le Morte D’Arthur, 1.25.
[5] Siegfried, in the Nordic-German saga, successfully completes a similar test: he takes out of a tree a sword stuck in it, which is something no one else had been able to do.
[6] Le Morte D’Arthur, 1.25.
[7] Le Morte D’Arthur, 1.25.
[8] At this point one may be induced to think of Christ and of his twelve disciples; truthfully, there are several references of this sort in the Christianized parts of the legend. However, this symbolism is supratraditional and much earlier than Christianity; the Christian figuration is merely a particular adaptation of it within a religious context. [9] Glastonbury was itself in prehistoric times a center of the primordial tradition, as is suggested by the presence of vestiges of some kind of huge star temple, defined by the track on the ground of gigantic effigies representing the constellations and arranged in a circle.
[10] In Le Morte D’Arthur (21.7) we read: “Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu put into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win by the holy cross. I will not say that it shall be so, but rather I will say, here in this world he changed his life. But many men say that there is written upon his tomb the verse, ‘Hic iacet Arthurus, Rex quondam Rexque futurus.’” In the same text, the wounded Arthur wants his sword returned to that mysterious arm holding it above the waters; this has the visible meaning of a restitution of a mandate.
[11] There is a further interference with the previously mentioned motifs (more on which later), namely, that version of the saga according to which Arthur will return from Avalon at the time of a decisive battle against the Briton’s enemies; this battle is supposed to be the “last battle” (see Natrovissus, “Le mythe arthurien et la legend de Merlin”, Ogam, issues 6, 10, 13 [1950]).

Source (http://www.galacticapublishing.com/HyperboreanTheme.htm)