Cronnie Wisdom

Crone is "a phase in which you can be more authentic, more capable of making a difference in your family and in the greater world. Life gives you experience, and when you draw from it, that's true wisdom. By the time a woman is in her crone years, she is in an amazing position to be an influence. To change things for the better, to bring what she knows into a situation, to be able to say, 'Enough is enough.' You don't have to just go along with things, which is often a part of the middle years. You're often something of a loose cannon."
Jean Shinoda Bolen


Friday, September 23, 2022

The Birth of Fin Mac Cumhail – A Story from Irish Mythology


 

Finn MacCool (or Mac Cumhaill) is the pale haired, poet-warrior of Irish mythology.  His life fills the Fenian Cycle, a collection of stories first reference in the 7th century poetry. But MacCool’s stories are more important than mere mythology; and they grew and spread from myth to legend to folktale.

In this story, we focus on the beginning, Finn’s birth, of which there are several versions.  In one telling, he is raised by one or two nurses.  But my favorite, by far, is the story in which he is raised by his grandmother, a very wise crone.

Cumhal Macart was a great champion in the west of Erin, and it was prophesied of him that if ever he married, he would meet death in the next battle he fought.

For this reason, he had no wife, and knew no woman for a long time; till one day he saw the king's daughter, who was so beautiful that he forgot all fear and married her in secret.

Next day after the marriage, news came that a battle had to be fought.

Now a Druid had told the king that his daughter's son would take the kingdom from him; so, he made up his mind to look after the daughter, and not let any man come near her.

Before he went to the battle, Cumhal told his mother everything - told her of his relations with the king's daughter.

He said, "I shall be killed in battle to-day, according to the prophecy of the Druid, and I'm afraid if his daughter has a son, the king will kill the child, for the prophecy is that he will lose the kingdom by the son of his own daughter. Now, if the king's daughter has a son will you hide and rear him, if you can?  You will be his only hope and stay."

Cumhal was killed in the battle, and within that year the king's daughter had a son. By command of his grandfather, the boy was thrown out of the castle window into a loch, to be drowned, on the day of his birth.

The boy sank from sight; but after remaining a while under the water, he rose again to the surface, and came to land holding a live salmon in his hand.

The grandmother of the boy, Cumhal's mother, stood watching on the shore, and said to herself as she saw this: "He is my grandson, the true son of my own child," and seizing the boy, she rushed away with him, and vanished, before the king's people could stop her.

When the king heard that the old woman had escaped with his daughter's son, he fell into a terrible rage, and ordered all the male children born that day in the kingdom to be put to death, hoping in this way to kill his own grandson, and save the crown for himself.

After she had disappeared from the bank of the loch, the old woman, Cumhal's mother, made her way to a thick forest, where she spent that night as best she could. Next day she came to a great oak tree. Then she hired a man to cut out a chamber in the tree.

When all was finished, and there was a nice room in the oak for herself and her grandson, and a whelp (a puppy) of the same age as the boy, and which she had brought with her from the castle, she said to the man: "Give me the axe which you have in your hand, there is something here that I want to fix."

The man gave the axe into her hand, and that minute she swept the head off him, saying: "You'll never tell any man about this place now." One day the whelp ate some of the fine chippings (bran) left cut by the carpenter from the inside of the tree. The old woman said: "You'll be called Bran from this out."

All three lived in the tree together, and the old woman did not take her grandson out till the end of five years; and then he couldn't walk, he had been sitting so long inside.

When the old grandmother had taught the boy to walk, she brought him one day to the brow of a hill from which there was a long slope. She took a switch and said: "Now, run down this place. I will follow and strike you with this switch (of nettles), and coming up I will run ahead, and you strike me as often as you can."

The first time they ran down, his grandmother struck him many times. In coming up the first time, he did not strike her at all. Every time they ran down she struck him less, and every time they ran up he struck her more.

They ran up and down for three days; and at the end of that time she could not strike him once, and he struck her at every step she took. He had now become a great runner.

When he was fifteen years of age, the old woman went with him to a hurling match between the forces of his grandfather and those of a neighboring king. Both sides were equal in skill; and neither was able to win, till the youth opposed his grandfather's people. Then, he won every game. When the ball was thrown in the air, he struck it coming down, and so again and again,—never letting the ball touch the ground till he had driven it through the barrier.

The old king, who was very angry, and greatly mortified, at the defeat of his people, exclaimed, as he saw the youth, who was very fair and had white hair: "Who is that fin cumhal [white cap]?"

"Ah, that is it; Fin will be his name, and Fin MacCumhail he is," said the old woman.

The king ordered his people to seize and put the young man to death, on the spot. The old woman hurried to the side of her grandson. They slipped from the crowd and away they went, a hill at a leap, a glen at a step, and thirty-two miles at a running-leap. They ran a long distance, till Fin grew tired; then the old grandmother took him on her back, putting his feet into two pockets which were in her dress, one on each side, and ran on with the same swiftness as before, a hill at a leap, a glen at a step, and thirty-two miles at a running-leap.

After a time, the old woman felt the approach of pursuit, and said to Fin: "Look behind, and tell me what you see."

"I see," said he, "a white horse with a champion on his back."

"Oh, no fear," said she; "a white horse has no endurance; he can never catch us, we are safe from him." And on they sped. A second time she felt the approach of pursuit, and again she said: "Look back, and see who is coming."

Fin looked back, and said: "I see a warrior riding on a brown horse."

"Never fear," said the old woman; "there is never a brown horse but is giddy, he cannot overtake us." She rushed on as before. A third time she said: "Look around and see who is coming now." Fin looked, and said: "I see a black warrior on a black horse, following fast."

"There is no horse so tough as a black horse," said the grandmother. "There is no escape from this one. My grandson, one or both of us must die. I am old, my time has nearly come. I will die, and you and Bran save yourselves. (Bran had been with them all the time.) Right here ahead is a deep bog; you jump off my back and escape as best you can. I'll jump into the bog up to my neck; and when the king's men come, I'll say that you are in the bog before me, sunk out of sight, and I'm trying to find you. As my hair and yours are the same color, they will think my head good enough to carry back. They will cut it off, and take it in place of yours, and show it to the king; that will satisfy his anger."

Fin slipped down, took farewell of his grandmother, and hurried on with Bran. The old woman came to the bog, jumped in, and sank to her neck. The king's men were soon at the edge of the bog, and the black rider called out to the old woman: "Where is Fin?"

"He is here in the bog before me, and I'm trying can I find him."

As the horsemen could not find Fin and thought the old woman's head would do to carry back, they cut it off, and took it with them, saying: "This will satisfy the king."

Fin and Bran went on till they came to a great cave, in which they found a herd of goats. At the further end of the cave was a smoldering fire. The two lay down to rest.

A couple of hours later, in came a giant with a salmon in his hand. This giant was of awful height, he had but one eye, and that in the middle of his forehead, as large as the sun in heaven.

When he saw Fin, he called out: "Here, take this salmon and roast it; but be careful, for if you raise a single blister on it, I'll cut the head off you. I've followed this salmon for three days and three nights without stopping, and I never let it out of my sight, for it is the most wonderful salmon in the world."

The giant lay down to sleep in the middle of the cave. Fin spitted the salmon and held it over the fire.

The minute the giant closed the one eye in his head, he began to snore. Every time he drew breath into his body, he dragged Fin, the spit, the salmon, Bran, and all the goats to his mouth; and every time he drove a breath out of himself, he threw them back to the places they were in before. Fin was drawn time after time to the mouth of the giant with such force, that he was in dread of going down his throat.

When partly cooked, a blister rose on the salmon. Fin pressed the place with his thumb, to know could he break the blister, and hide from the giant the harm that was done. But he burned his thumb, and, to ease the pain, put it between his teeth, and gnawed the skin to the flesh, the flesh to the bone, the bone to the marrow; and when he had tasted the marrow, he received the knowledge of all things. Next moment, he was drawn by the breath of the giant right up to his face, and, knowing from his thumb what to do, he plunged the hot spit into the sleeping eye of the giant and destroyed it.

That instant the giant with a single bound was at the low entrance of the cave, and, standing with his back to the wall and a foot on each side of the opening, roared out: "You'll not leave this place alive."

Now Fin killed the largest goat, skinned him as quickly as he could, then putting the skin on himself he drove the herd to where the giant stood; the goats passed out one by one between his legs. When the great goat came the giant took him by the horns. Fin slipped from the skin and ran out.

"Oh, you've escaped," said the giant, "but before we part let me make you a present."

"I'm afraid to go near you," said Fin; "if you wish to give me a present, put it out this way, and then go back."

The giant placed a ring on the ground, then went back. Fin took up the ring and put it on the end of his little finger above the first joint. It clung so firmly that no man in the world could have taken it off.

The giant then called out, "Where are you?"

"On Fin's finger," cried the ring. That instant the giant sprang at Fin and almost came down on his head, thinking in this way to crush him to bits. Fin sprang to a distance. Again, the giant asked, "Where are you?"

"On Fin's finger," answered the ring.

Again, the giant made a leap, coming down just in front of Fin. Many times, he called, and many times almost caught Fin, who could not escape with the ring on his finger. While in this terrible struggle, not knowing how to escape, Bran ran up and asked:

"Why don't you chew your thumb?" Fin bit his thumb to the marrow, and then knew what to do. He took the knife with which he had skinned the goat, cut off his finger at the first joint, and threw it, with the ring still on, into a deep bog nearby.

Again, the giant called out, "Where are you?" and the ring answered, "On Fin's finger."

Straightway the giant sprang towards the voice, sank to his shoulders in the bog, and stayed there.

Fin with Bran now went on his way and travelled till he reached a deep and thick wood, where a thousand horses were drawing timber, and men felling and preparing it.

"What is this?" asked Fin of the overseer of the workmen.

"Oh, we are building a dun (a castle) for the king; we build one every day, and every night it is burned to the ground. Our king has an only daughter; he will give her to any man who will save the dun, and he'll leave him the kingdom at his death. If any man undertakes to save the dun and fails, his life must pay for it; the king will cut his head off. The best champions in Erin have tried and failed; they are now in the king's dungeons, a whole army of them, waiting the king's pleasure. He's going to cut the heads off them all in one day."

"Why don't you chew your thumb?" asked Bran.

Fin chewed his thumb to the marrow, and then knew that on the eastern side of the world there lived an old hag with her three sons, and every evening at nightfall she sent the youngest of these to burn the king's dun.

"I will save the king's dun," said Fin.

"Well," said the overseer, "better men than you have tried and lost their lives." "Oh," said Fin, "I'm not afraid; I'll try for the sake of the king's daughter."

Now Fin, followed by Bran, went with the overseer to the king. "I hear you will give your daughter to the man who saves your dun," said Fin.

"I will," said the king; "but if he fails, I must have his head."

"Well," said Fin, "I'll risk my head for the sake of your daughter. If I fail, I'm satisfied." The king gave Fin food and drink; he supped, and after supper went to the dun.

"Why don't you chew your thumb?" said Bran; "then you'll know what to do." He did. Then Bran took her place on the roof, waiting for the old woman's son. Now the old woman in the east told her youngest son to hurry on with his torches, burn the dun, and come back without delay; for the stirabout was boiling and he must not be too late for supper.

He took the torches and shot off through the air with a wonderful speed. Soon he was in sight of the king's dun, threw the torches upon the thatched roof to set it on fire as usual.

That moment Bran gave the torches such a push with her shoulders, that they fell into the stream which ran around the dun and were put out. "Who is this," cried the youngest son of the old hag, "who has dared to put out my lights, and interfere with my hereditary right?"

"I," said Fin, who stood in front of him. Then began a terrible battle between Fin and the old woman's son. Bran came down from the dun to help Fin; she bit and tore his enemy's back, stripping the skin and flesh from his head to his heels.

After a terrible struggle such as had not been in the world before that night, Fin cut the head off his enemy. But for Bran, Fin could never have conquered.

The time for the return of her son had passed; supper was ready. The old woman, impatient and angry, said to the second son: "You take torches and hurry on, see why your brother loiters. I'll pay him for this when he comes home! But be careful and don't do like him, or you'll have your pay too. Hurry back, for the stirabout is boiling and ready for supper."

He started off, was met and killed exactly as his brother, except that he was stronger and the battle fiercer. But for Bran, Fin would have lost his life that night.

The old woman was raging at the delay, and said to her eldest son, who had not been out of the house for years: (It was only in case of the greatest need that she sent him. He had a cat's head, and was called Pus an Chuine, "Puss of the Corner;" he was the eldest and strongest of all the brothers.) "Now take torches, go and see what delays your brothers; I'll pay them for this when they come home."

The eldest brother shot off through the air, came to the king's dun, and threw his torches upon the roof. They had just singed the straw a little, when Bran pushed them off with such force that they fell into the stream and were quenched.

"Who is this," screamed Cat-head, "who dares to interfere with my ancestral right?"

"I," shouted Fin. Then the struggle began fiercer than with the second brother. Bran helped from behind, tearing the flesh from his head to his heels; but at length Cat-head fastened his teeth into Fin's breast, biting and gnawing till Fin cut the head off. The body fell to the ground, but the head lived, gnawing as terribly as before. Do what they could it was impossible to kill it. Fin hacked and cut but could neither kill nor pull it off. When nearly exhausted, Bran said:

"Why don't you chew your thumb?"

Fin chewed his thumb, and reaching the marrow knew that the old woman in the east was ready to start with torches to find her sons, and burn the dun herself, and that she had a vial of liquid with which she could bring the sons to life; and that nothing could free him from Cat-head but the old woman's blood.

After midnight the old hag, enraged at the delay of her sons, started and shot through the air like lightning, more swiftly than her sons. She threw her torches from afar upon the roof of the dun; but Bran as before hurled them into the stream.

Now the old woman circled around in the air looking for her sons. Fin was getting very weak from pain and loss of blood, for Cat-head was biting at his breast all the time.

Bran called out: "Rouse yourself, oh, Fin; use all your power or we are lost! If the old hag gets a drop from the vial upon the bodies of her sons, they will come to life, and then we're done for."

Thus roused, Fin with one spring reached the old woman in the air, and swept the bottle from her grasp, which falling upon the ground was emptied.

The old hag gave a scream which was heard all over the world, came to the ground and closed with Fin. Then followed a battle greater than the world had ever known before that night or has ever seen since. Water sprang out of gray rocks, cows cast their calves even when they had none, and hard rushes grew soft in the remotest corner of Erin, so desperate was the fighting and so awful, between Fin and the old hag. Fin would have died that night but for Bran.

Just as daylight was coming Fin swept the head off the old woman, caught some of her blood, and rubbed it around Cat-head, who fell off dead.

He rubbed his own wounds with the blood and was cured; then rubbed some on Bran, who had been singed with the torches, and she was as well as ever. Fin, exhausted with fighting, dropped down and fell asleep.

While he was sleeping the chief steward of the king came to the dun, found it standing safe and sound, and seeing Fin lying there asleep knew that he had saved it. Bran tried to waken Fin, pulled and tugged, but could not rouse him.

The steward went to the king, and said: "I have saved the dun, and I claim the reward."

"It shall be given you," answered the king; and straightway the steward was recognized as the king's son-in-law, and orders were given to make ready for the wedding.

Bran had listened to what was going on, and when her master woke, exactly at midday, she told him of all that was taking place in the castle of the king.

Fin went to the king, and said: "I have saved your dun, and I claim the reward."

"Oh," said the king, "my steward claimed the reward, and it has been given to him."

"He had nothing to do with saving the dun; I saved it," said Fin.

"Well," answered the king, "he is the first man who told me of its safety and claimed the reward." "Bring him here: let me look at him," said Fin.

He was sent for and came. "Did you save the king's dun?" asked Fin. "I did," said the steward.

"You did not, and take that for your lies," said Fin; and striking him with the edge of his open hand he swept the head off his body, dashing it against the other side of the room, flattening it like paste on the wall.

"You are the man," said the king to Fin, "who saved the dun; yours is the reward. All the champions, and there is many a man of them, who have failed to save it are in the dungeons of my fortress; their heads must be cut off before the wedding takes place."

"Will you let me see them?" asked Fin.

"I will," said the king.

Fin went down to the men and found the first champions of Erin in the dungeons. "Will you obey me in all things if I save you from death?" said Fin. "We will," said they. Then he went back to the king and asked:

"Will you give me the lives of these champions of Erin, in place of your daughter's hand?"

"I will," said the king.

All the champions were liberated and left the king's castle that day. Ever after they followed the orders of Fin, and these were the beginning of his forces and the first of the Fenians of Erin.

You’ve got to love a story with both a crone and a hag!  Next month, we’ll discover what we can learn from each.


Jeremiah Curtin, “The Birth of Finn MacCumhail” in Myths and Folk-Lore of Ireland (Boston, MA: Little Brown, 1906), pp.204-220.  (At “Project Gutenberg,” https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36540).

Sunday, August 21, 2022

From Star Wars to King Arthur – Why the Legend Continues

 

I’m a Star Wars’ fan, especially the first and last trilogy.  In fact, one of my favorite film moments comes in the Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.  It’s only about 3 minutes of film footage, at the very end of the film.  But it brought tears to this crone storyteller's eyes, and it stays in my mind and heart during the dark days we live in.  Why?  I’ll get to that moment, but before I do, I think it’s best to start a bit earlier. 

Finn and Rose, two Resistance members, are sent on a mission to find and disable the First Order’s tracking device. This is a new system that can track Resistance ships in hyperspace. (If all this already seems too much to follow, please watch the films or check out a written summary.) This quest takes them to a casino town called Canto Bight searching for the hacker DJ.  Canto Bight is a tourist planet with a casino.  (This part of the film brings back memories of when Luke and Obi-Wan go into the bar.) This casino is also filled with beings from all over the galaxy engaging in all manner of gambling. Soon everything goes amiss and the three find themselves chased by local security. In a surprising turn of events, they receive help from some orphaned children who work as stable hands at the racetrack.  Rose convinces the child, Temiri Blagg, to help them escape in return for her Resistance ring. Blagg and some other orphans then release a herd of fathers (a four footed, ridable animal), which stampedes through the streets of Canto Bight. As the animals are released, Finn, Rose, and DJ escape. The film progresses with many losses for the Resistance. Luke Skywalker appears to confront the First Order and his nephew Kylo Ren. Luke gives the Resistance time to escape and then dies or becomes one with the Force (depending upon how you see it).  So that should be the end of the movie, but the director decided to add another brief scene.  To me, it is the most important scene of all.

It’s an image of the slave children still working in the stables of Canto Bight. (Some say their slavery was the price paid for their parents’ gambling debts.) They are sitting in a circle and there is a doll that appears to be Luke Skywalker.  One of the children is telling the story of Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Master. The other children look at him in awe.  This is the story of Luke’s final battle, a hero’s journey certainly and one in which he prevailed against all odds. It is a tale that inspires them.  Then their master returns and puts them back to work. We next see Temiri Blagg going outside. A broom seems to fly gently toward his hand.  He sweeps slowly and then gazes off into space.  On his finger, is the Resistance ring. We know he’s dreaming of a better day.  He’s remembering how Luke won the battle and thinking of how perhaps he can too.  As the viewer, we now know that Luke’s legacy will continue. The Force will prevail as long as the story is shared.  As long as the story lives, the Force will be awakened in others.   

The scene almost didn’t make it into the film.  But I’m so glad it did.  "To me, it was really important to have that final scene, because it turns what Luke did from an act that saves 20 people into an act that inspires the galaxy," director Ryan Johnson explained. "The notion that what we're setting up here is something big in the next chapter. And when Leia says, 'we have everything we need,' she's talking about everyone on the Falcon, but also about what we see next, which is we now have a galaxy that has seen this beacon of hope and is getting inspired to fight the good fight." That galaxy comes together in the final film of the trilogy.

There is another tale that’s similar, of a young boy sent off to tell a story.  It comes from the book The Once and Future King by T.H. White.  It’s a literary story based on the folklore surrounding King Arthur. I give you the last few pages of the book.  It’s retold beautifully in the film “Camelot” with Richard Harris playing the role of King Arthur (should you wish to watch it). The scene begins before the final battle when Arthur will die (or sleep, depending upon legend).

T.H. White writes-  Arthur proved that he was not quite done, by lifting his head. There was something invincible in his heart, a tincture of grandness in simplicity. He sat upright and reached for the iron bell.

"Page," he said, as the small boy trotted in, knuckling his eyes.

"My lord."

The King looked at him. Even in his own extremity he was able to notice others, especially if they were fresh or decent…

"My poor child," he said. "You ought to be in bed."

He observed the boy with a strained, thread-bare attention. It was long since he had seen youth's innocence and certainty.

"Look," he said, "will you take this note to the bishop? Don't wake him if he is asleep."

"My lord."

"Thank you."

As the live creature went, he called it back.

"Oh, page?"

"My lord?"

"What is your name?"

"Tom, my lord," it said politely.

"Where do you live?"

"Near Warwick, my lord."

"Near Warwick."

The old man seemed to be trying to imagine the place, as if it were Paradise Terrestre, or a country described by Mandeville.

"At a place called Newbold Revell. It is a pretty one."

"How old are you?"

"I shall be thirteen in November, my lord."

"And I have kept you up all night."

"No, my lord. I slept a lot on one of the saddles."

"Tom of Newbold Revell," he said with wonder. "We seem to have involved a lot of people. Tell me, Tom, what do you intend to do tomorrow?"

"I shall fight, sir. I have a good bow."

"And you will kill people with this bow?"

"Yes, my lord. A great many, I hope."

"Suppose they were to kill you?"

"Then I should be dead, my lord."

"I see."

"Shall I take the letter now?"

"No. Wait a minute. I want to talk to somebody, only my head is muddled."

"Shall I fetch a glass of wine?"

"No, Tom. Sit down and try to listen. Lift those chessmen off the stool. Can you understand things when they are said?"

"Yes, my lord. I am good at understanding."

"Could you understand if I asked you not to fight tomorrow?"

"I should want to fight," it said stoutly.

"Everybody wants to fight, Tom, but nobody knows why. Suppose I were to ask you not to fight, as a special favour to the King? Would you do that?"

"I should do what I was told."

"Listen, then. Sit for a minute and I will tell you a story. I am a very old man, Tom, and you are young. When you are old, you will be able to tell what I have told tonight, and I want you to do that. Do you understand this want?"

"Yes, sir. I think so."

"Put it like this. There was a king once, called King Arthur. That is me. When he came to the throne of England, he found that all the kings and barons were fighting against each other like madmen, and, as they could afford to fight in expensive suits of armour, there was practically nothing which could stop them from doing what they pleased. They did a lot of bad things, because they lived by force. Now this king had an idea, and the idea was that force ought to be used, if it were used at all, on behalf of justice, not on its own account. Follow this, young boy. He thought that if he could get his barons fighting for truth, and to help weak people, and to redress wrongs, then their fighting might not be such a bad thing as once it used to be. So he gathered together all the true and kindly people that he knew, and he dressed them in armour, and he made them knights, and taught them his idea, and set them down, at a Round Table. There were a hundred and fifty of them in the happy days, and King Arthur loved his Table with all his heart. He was prouder of it than he was of his own dear wife, and for many years his new knights went about killing ogres, and rescuing damsels and saving poor prisoners, and trying to set the world to rights. That was the King's idea."

"I think it was a good idea, my lord."

"It was, and it was not. God knows."

"What happened to the King in the end?" asked the child, when the story seemed to have dried up.

"For some reason, things went wrong. The Table split into factions, a bitter war began, and all were killed."

The boy interrupted confidently.

"No," he said, "not all. The King won. We shall win."

Arthur smiled vaguely and shook his head. He would have nothing but the truth.

"Everybody was killed," he repeated, "except a certain page. I know what I am talking about."

"My lord?"

"This page was called young Tom of Newbold Revell near Warwick, and the old King sent him off before the battle, upon pain of dire disgrace. You see, the King wanted there to be somebody left, who would remember their famous idea. He wanted badly that Tom should go back to Newbold Revell, where he could grow into a man and live his life in Warwickshire peace—and he wanted him to tell everybody who would listen about this ancient idea, which both of them had once thought good. Do you think you could do that, Thomas, to please the King?"

The child said, with the pure eyes of absolute truth: "I would do anything for King Arthur."

"That's a brave fellow. Now listen, man. Don't get these legendary people muddled up. It is I who tell you about my idea. It is I who am going to command you to take horse to Warwickshire at once, and not to fight with your bow tomorrow at all. Do you understand all this?"

"Yes, King Arthur."

"Will you promise to be careful of yourself afterward? Will you try to remember that you are a kind of vessel to carry on the idea, when things go wrong, and that the whole hope depends on you alive?"

"I will."

"It seems selfish of me to use you for it."

"It is an honour for your poor page, good my lord."

"Thomas, my idea of those knights was a sort of candle, like these ones here. I have carried it for many years with a hand to shield it from the wind. It has flickered often. I am giving you the candle now—you won't let it out?"

"It will burn."

"Good Tom. The light-bringer. How old did you say you were?"

"Nearly thirteen."

"Sixty more years then, perhaps. Half a century."

"I will give it to other people, King. English people."

"You will say to them in Warwickshire: Eh, he wor a wonderly fine candle?"

"Aye, lad, that I will."

"Then 'tis: Na, Tom, for thee must go right quickly. Thou'lt take the best son of a mare that thee kinst find, and thou wilt ride post into Warwickshire, lad, wi' nowt but the curlew?"

"I will ride post, mate, so that the candle burn."

"Good Tom, then, God bless 'ee. Doant thee ferget thick Bishop of Rochester, afore thou goest."

The little boy kneeled down to kiss his master's hand—his surcoat, with the Malory bearings, looking absurdly new.

"My lord of England," he said.

Arthur raised him gently, to kiss him on the shoulder.

"Sir Thomas of Warwick," he said—and the boy was gone.

Two different stories.  Two youths serving as a kind of vessel to carry on an idea.  As Arthur said, “when things go wrong, and that the whole hope depends on you alive” can you be that kind of vessel? Both Temiri Blagg and Thomas of Warwick fit the bill.

Joseph Campbell outlines the story of the hero in his “hero’s journey” cycle.  After the hero is initiated, faces challenges, and is transformed, he/she must return. Ultimately, it is the hero’s responsibility to go back to the beginning and share what was learned from the quest. Luke Skywalker was in a fight against the First Order, a fascist, military group seeking to control the galaxy. King Arthur was also fighting for his ideals: justice, equality, chivalry, and honor. Camelot was a utopian society, at least for a while. But what happens if the hero is unable to return? Both Luke Skywalker and King Arthur died in the story; and yet, it was still important that their lives, their ideas, and their message continue. 

This is where the storyteller comes in.  In the dark ages of Ireland, the storyteller was as important as the king, for the history and culture of the people were contained within his memory. In fact, the death of the storyteller required the same punishment as the death of the king.  Our ancestors understood the importance of the story.  King Arthur’s first written reference was as a 5th century king.  His legend continues today, over and over again, with each new retelling.  There are no signs of it stopping, for the spark within that tale still holds meaning for us many centuries later. Today, as forces try to silence some stories, as history is rewritten, and books banned; it’s important to remember why stories were told and recorded in the first place.

Ben Okri writes in the book A Way of Being Free, “It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are.  They do their work in silence, invisibly.  They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self.  They become part of you while changing you.  Beware the stories your read or tell: subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”

The candle must burn long and strong. Stories that are held in our hearts, can never be extinguished.

White, T.H., The Once and Future King.  New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1939.  "Star Wars, the Rise of Skywalker," J.J. Abrams, director. San Francisco, CA: Lucas Films, 2020.

For more about these stories, listen to my podcast of the same name published on September 2022).