MOTIFS

Now, you see, if you think of an archetypal motif and of an archetypal background, such as appears very often in myths and fairy tales, people get caught in a trap.  They enter a castle and the door shuts behind them, and that always means that now they are in the Self.  Now they have reached that point in their psyche where they can no longer run away from themselves.  Now they are in for it, and the ego, which always flirts with the idea of getting away from what it ought to do, knows that it is caught in the mousetrap and hitherto has to fulfill the requirements of the Self and will not be released before that is accomplished.    AAI 24

The Waste Land Motif:  Pope Innocent III himself called his clergy a sty of swine.  Their behavior was disgraceful, and yet these men held the keys to heaven, and everyone had to submit to them.  Now, this question of a clergy misbehaving and forcing beliefs on people brought about a condition that was spiritually terrible, and this is the condition represented in the mythological image of the Waste Land, which is the basic motif of the Grail romances.  RG 25   

The Perilous Bed

Gawain then asks (the ferryman) about the castle, and (the ferryman) of course says, “Don’t ask.”

Gawain says, “I am asking.”

So the (ferryman) tells him that this is the Castle of Marvels and that Gawain may either depart or attempt the adventure, but that no one can survive it. 

   This is the adventure of the Perilous Bed, one of the great adventures in Arthurian romance.  The ferryman gives Gawain his shield, since Gawain insists on the adventure.  And he tells Gawain, “Just when you think the adventure is over, it has just begun, so stay under that shield.”

  Gawain approaches the castle, and all is quiet.  He enters and goes into the room of the Perilous Bed.  The floor is absolutely slick, the bed stands in the middle on wheels, and every time Gawain approaches it – with armor and shield, big heavy gear – the bed jumps away. 

   The Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, in talking about this adventure, said, “This bed is like a reluctant bride putting up a terrific fight.”  Zimmer went on to say that this adventure concerns the masculine experience of the female temperament, which seems absolutely irrational from the masculine point of view.  The adventure demands, without the man understanding it, that he simply acquiesce.  And when he has shown his ability to acquiesce and remain in decent relationship with the feminine, then the boons will appear … (but) not before the real test.    (pic on p 71)    RG 71

Fatal sail motif

(Tristan and Iseult)   The most telling item, however, is the fatal sail motif, which comes directly from the classical tale of Theseus’ return to Athens from his conquest of the Minotaur in Crete.  He departed to the adventure in a vessel with black sails; his father, King Aegeus, has provided a white set, to be used if the vessel returned victorious.  Theseus in Crete, we recall, has been enabled to emerge alive from the labyrinth with the aid of King Minos’ daughter, sister of the Minotaur, the lovely Ariadne, whom he took with him when he left.  But he abandoned her on the island of Dia, and some say she hanged herself.  Others tell, however, that Dionysos, the great god of wine and bread, love, death and rebirth, abducted her from Theseus and carried her to Naxos, where first he and then she disappeared. 

   In any case, such confusion prevails aboard the returning hero’s ship as it makes its way back to Athens that the crew forgets to raise the white sails, and as a consequence, when it heaves into view, King Aegeus, Theseus’ father, watching for the returning craft from the height of the Acropolis, sees the black sails, and supposing his son to have failed, flings himself from the rock and dies in the sea that now bears his name.  RG 107

Paris – Helen Motif

   Gertrude Schoepperle, in her exhaustive analysis of the Tristan motifs and their sources, was the first, I believe, to notice that, besides the matter of the sails, there is also a classical Paris-Helen motif suggested in the legend.  Paris’ nurse (and then wife, before he absconds with Helen) is the ageless nymph Oinone; and his legend tells that, when he is wounded by a poisoned arrow shot by Philoctetes from the bow of Herakles, in those terrible last days of the Trojan War, Paris sends for Oinone, and, on hearing that she refuses to come to him, dies.  She is actually at that moment hastening after the messenger with her magical herbs and simples.  Arriving too late, she slays herself and is buried with Paris in the same grave. 

   One thinks here of the relationship of the Valkyrie Brunnhilde to Wagner’s hero Siegfried and his defection, then, to Gutrune, with Brunnhilde’s subsequent suttee death – Siegfried’s funeral pyre.  These are ancient, mighty themes, going back at least as far as the Royal Tombs of Ur.   RG 109

Defeated People

   So we have the period of these invasions in the late fifth and early sixth centuries as the historical moment underlying the legend of Arthur – that is to say, about 450-550 A.D.  Then we have a period of oral legendry, of reciting the deeds of this great man, building up the legend of the Hope of the Britons, namely, of Arthur as the one who will return to restore their lost world to them.  It’s a bit like the hope that inspired the ghost dance religion at the end of the last century in America: the hope that the ghost dancers would dance and dance and that another land would come over the land that the white people had taken, and that only the Indians would be able to jump up onto that land, and the buffalo would be there, and the old world would be there again.  This is a common motif in the traditions of defeated peoples.   RG 129

Sleeping Giant.

   Where is Arthur supposed to be in the meanwhile?  There are three principle interpretations of where Arthur is residing.  One is that he is under s burial mound sleeping in the hill.  This is a motif that we get throughout the whole world, too, the sleeping giant, the sleeping savior in the tomb, waiting out the eons, in the great burial mound until the time is right.  Another view is that he’s residing in the lower half of the world, in the Antipodes, among the pygmies and dwarfs of the South Pole.  But the most charming and most popular was the story of him sleeping in the Island of the West, Avalon.  Now, Avalon is a Celtic formation of the word apple.  This is the Isle of the Golden Apples, the counterpart to the classical Greek Hesperides: an eternal land, a timeless land, just like the timeless world of the sleeping giant in the hill.  This is the world of the unconscious; it is the world beyond time and space, the world of the Sambhogakaya (“body of enjoyment”), of the mythological forms that endure beyond time and yet are not the void.  It’s between the realm of the void and the realm of phenomenality, the realm of dream and vision, where the savior sleeps, and that realm was in the past, and is in the present, and is to come.  It’s around us like the silence around AUM.   RG 131

Sick King

   As told by Chrétien de Troyes’ legend and again in the Cistercian Queste, the Grail King has been wounded by a lance thrust through his thighs, and his land, as a result, is laid waste.  Modern commentators have recognized in this motif a reflection of the well-known primitive superstition discussed by Frazer, in The Golden Bough, of the king’s health and well-being as the cause and support of his realms’ well-being.  It is a primitive, magical idea(.)     RG 150

Labyrinth

The labyrinth motif connects the Goddess as the personification of those powers that exist beyond the labyrinth of our life.  G39

Sati

   During the 1920s the English archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley excavated the ground in front of the ziggurat of Ur, and there discovered what are now known as the Royal Tombs of Ur.  Woolley found not only the king and the queen buried in these tombs, but their entire courts, the oxcarts, the drivers of the oxcarts, the nobility of the court, the dancing girls, and the musicians.  Based on the conditions of the skeletons, it has been surmised that the court had gone into the tombs alive; it is unknown if the king had been ritually slain or if he died naturally.  The king was buried with his court and then the grave was filled in, and on top of that the queen (whose name, Puabi, is given on a lapis lazuli seal) was buried with her court.  The woman was the cosmic order and also the awakener to future life, and when the man died the woman went down into the underworld to bring him to life.  This is the motif of sati.   G82

Mother giving birth to the child without the father present:

   Isis landed in the papyrus swamp and gave birth to Horus in sorrow and pain.  The sun god Amon-Re and the moon god Thoth, guide of the dead, were her only support in the birth pains.  Isis is one of the principal models for the Madonna in the Christian tradition; this is the motif of the mother giving birth to the child without the father present, and this standard motif comes right down in later folklore and epics.  G 95

The Sword Bridge

   Well, the next trial of our friend Lancelot is what is known as the Sword Bridge.  This is a bridge, made of a sword, across a roaring torrent.  Lancelot has to go across with bare hands and feet on the sharp edge of the sword.  Perhaps you know Somerset Maugham’s novel entitled The Razor’s Edge.  This is a motif from the Kana Upanishad.  “Any trip along your own path is a razor’s edge.”  It really is; nobody’s done it before.  And it’s so easy – particularly if what you’re following is your bliss, your passion – it’s so easy to tip over and fall into a torrent of passion that sweeps you away.  TMTT 236

Forbidden Fruit :

There's a standard folk motif called the one forbidden thing.  Remember Blue Beard - don't open that closet - and then one always does it.  And in the old testament story - he knows that man is going to eat the fruit, but it is by that t