Arthurian symbolism and alchemy

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Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 18:54:02 -0400 (EDT)
From: Antonio Balestra

I know at least two well-established esoteric schools (as opposed to single writers that author books on the subject) that instruct their students in varying degrees of the Arthurian cycle -- on the basis that some of its legends veil symbolic processes intended to convey knowledge of various stages in the Great Work. English schools of occultism, of course -- though there may be others in Europe that I've not heard of.
So, apparently some think that it is not outside the realm of possibility.


Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 20:18:05 -0400
From: Oliver Timken Perrin

>*just wondering if anyone thinks any alchemical symbolism might've seeped
>into this late mediaeval (the Malory version) variation of the Arthurian

Mayhap the other way around? What do you think?


Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 08:01:26 -0700 (MST)
From: Tom Willard

An interesting exchange:

>*just wondering if anyone thinks any alchemical symbolism might've seeped
>into this late mediaeval (the Malory version) variation of the Arthurian
>Mayhap the other way around? What do you think?<

As Joni Mitchell says, I've looked at this from both sides now.
It's tempting to see colour symbolism in Malory's shields, and alchemical symbolism in tales like Malory's Balin and Balan. But then, it's easy to think that Malory knows not what he's saying, and that the real evidence must lie in "the French book", as he always calls his source.
And then again, it's tempting to think that the alchemists of Malory's age (the 15th century, including the great Canon Ripley if memory serves) were not simply dredging up images from the unconscious but were well acquainted with the images in literature. Thus the continuation of the "Roman de la Rose": the first part provided the myth for the alchemy, but the second part was really alchemical. (I know that the adepti would like to define terms at this point.)
Or as Petrus Bonus says: Liber enim librum aperit. One text opens another.


Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 09:16:26 -0500
From: George Randall Leake III

>Mayhap the other way around? What do you think?

I doubt it; I think Malory's version was the first popular version which even had Galahad as a major character...I understand in the primary versions, Lancelot's nowhere to be found (prompting some scholars to guess that he was a Franco-Chivalric-Norman addition), and the most important knight at the Round Table is Gawain, followed by Gareth (both obviously Celts)

From: Jon Marshall
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 1995 14:56:23 -0700

In the Celtic Mabinogin, the among the best knights of the group is Cei.
Interestingly under the Normans Kay, as they called him, became a buffoon and a thug. Perhaps this is correlated with the rise of Lancelot?
To return to an earlier theme. I note that in Jessie Weston's 'from ritual to romance'- the inspiration for Eliot's 'waste land'- she remarks that the Grail is always associated with a lance, a plate and a sword and she associates these with the Cup, Wand, Coins and swords of the tarot. (She also refers to The astronomical designs on the ceiling of the palace of Medinet Abou in Egypt, referring to a brochure in French by Falconnier Les XXII lames Hermetiques, for any Egyptologists amongst us), and ultimately with a fundamental fertility ritual- bringing in the sexual alchemists as well.


Date: Mon, 25 Sep 1995 10:12:36 -0500
From: George Randall Leake III

>In the celtic Mabinogin, the among the best knights of the goup is cei.
>Interestingly under the Normans Kay, as they called him, became a bufoon and a
>thug. Perhaps this is correlated with the rise of lancelot?

Someone suggested the other day that Lancelot was a portrayal of someone who was originally in league with Guinevere, one of her cronies, not her lover...a very ordinary example of the feudal patronage system

G. Leake

Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 10:22:05 +1000
From: Tom McRae

We have an academic on campus here who has looked deeply into the symbolism within the earlier Arthurian works. Her conclusion is that there is much coded information concealed within the narratives, descriptions of various chapels and other buildings are among areas where such information may be found. I'm desperately seeking to find out more since the project was written up in our 'University News' but lack the time to pursue it at present.
Tom McRae

From: Jon Marshall
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 1995 13:07:19 -0700

In Wolfram von Eschenbach Parzifal: (Penguin p239)

A hermit is describing the grail castle to Parzifal. The Gral is guarded by the Templars "I will tell you how they are nourished. They live from a Stone whose essence is most pure. If you have never heard of it I shall name it for you here. It is called `Lapsit exillis'.[but isn't the Latin for stone lapis?
Could `Lapsit' come from `lapsio', but this is hard to translate anyhow] By virtue of this Stone the Phoenix is burned to ashes in which he is reborn- Thus does the phoenix molt its feathers! which done it shines dazzling bright and lovely as before! Further: however ill a mortal may be, from the day on which he sees the Stone he cannot die for that week, nor does he loose his colour. For if anyone, maid or man, were to look at the Gral for two hundred years you would have to admit that his colour was as fresh as in his early prime, except that his hair would grey!- Such powers does the Stone confer on mortal men that their flesh and bones are soon made young again. This Stone is also called the `The Gral'."
On good Friday the hermit continues. A dove flies down from heaven "It brings a small white Wafer to the Stone and leaves it there. The Dove all dazzling white, then flies up to heaven again.... from which the Stone receives all that is good on earthe of food and drink of paradisal excellence".
It is also tied up with the wounded king, and the attempts to cure him are described....
The follower of Rudolph Steiner, Walter Johnnes Stein, has collected a somewhat bizarre series of his essays as 'Death of Merlin: Arthurian Myth and Alchemy' in which among other things he alleges that Book VII of Malory's 'Morte d'Arthur' is without any recognised source and is actually based upon the 12 Keys of Basil Valentine- (unlikely as no ms of BV exist from Malory's period).
Quickly summarizing (a longer summary is available to those who don't have access to Malory, but it swelled this post beyond acceptability) a despised matter of royal blood (Gareth known as `Beaumains', brother of Gawain) associated with kitchens, follows a maiden (Lynet) and encounters and defeats a Black, Green, Red and Blue Knight who are brothers.
He meets a woman called Lyonesse (lioness?), who is the maiden's sister, in a castle guarded by an iron (red) knight. he defeats the besieger whose strength increases with the sun, falls in love with the lioness who he meets with her brother (a black knight) at Avilon. They attempt to sleep together but are interrupted by a knight who wounds him in the thigh, and who he eventually kills and who is resurrected by the lioness's sister. This happens twice, and he is healed by the same balm.
The lioness gives him a ring which changes his colour.
He encounters many knights under the guise of different colours and eventually appears as yellow/gold.
The gold flees and is hidden amidst rain, encounters a brown knight who traps maidens and is married to the lioness by the king.
Now Stein is not alone in not finding a source for this episode in the matter of Britain. Vinaver, in the standard Oxford Works of Malory says this section "is to the critic Malory's most puzzling work. Its immediate Source is unknown"
In one of those monuments to early 20th century scholarship and confusion (Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance) Roger Loomis adds that in Chretian de Troyes 'Ivain', Gawain is compared to the sun and has an affair with a maiden called Lunete. And of course with the ease of this scholarship Gareth and Gawain are the same as is Lynet and Lunete and Lyonesse. Though then the `alchemy' becomes unconscious.
Personally despite Stein's certainty I can see no similarity between the story and the 12 keys.
Alchemists and story tellers both use potent images. The tales of chivalry and the tales of alchemy in the west both draw on the same bank of images and narrative forms, and it does not seem unlikely that one could spill into the other, or be made use of. (I have often thought that Ashmole's Garter book might be a hermetic work of sorts, but it is a BIG book, and I'm lazy).
The question remains if Malory is alchemical then why?
And if the stories are alchemical in themselves, then what does that imply?
Beyond the difficulty of deciding what is an alchemic text, (as Bernadette, I think said somewhere, all symbolism is in some sense alchemical)- where does this leave us?
To return to Stein:
Stein alleges that the prima materia is coal, hence Beaumains association with the kitchen and that by alchemical process the coal becomes diamond- the body of the human being is carbon as well, and there is an analogy in this process with the `cleaning of souls'. "What alchemists taught through the symbology of the chemical substance Malory expressed by replacing knights for the chemical substance.... All organic substance is only carbon, ...but man is not coal but soft diamond... The true inkarnat was the Philosophers' living stone appearing in many colours. The chemical kitchen was the actual body of man." and the
colours are painted upon the skin. "It is astonishing to see how Malory has elaborated Basilius if one takes a copy of the Twelve keys and reads them both... it is the case that all passages in which Basilius calls on God... must be collated to find the beginning. And that beginning is carbon. If carbon is treated with contempt the rest, which comprises a guide through all the colours until they radiate and shine as 'one* at the end, will not make sense.
Later Stein argues that humans now depend on plants for the carbon cycle i.e. we convert oxygen into carbon dioxide and plants convert it back. The alchemist seeks to render the carbon cycle complete in the one being. If we thus, instead of exhaling carbon fixed it, "we ourselves would physically be the Philosopher's Stone. We would be living, conscious, responsible stone"
Furthermore according to Stein the printing of this book is tied in with the establishment of an international order of knights centered on Henry VI's son prince Arthur and that this order of knights was versed in alchemy and were preparing for the birth of the modern world- the discovery of new lands, industry and such. "A new conception of the world was emerging. And its first lesson was `Do not despise carbon'"
I then recalled that the well known work of occult fiction 'The spear of destiny' talked about Parzifal and alchemy- and who should appear as a major character but a Walter Johannes Stein who one day finds in a bookshop a copy of Parzifal with dark footnotes, that claim the Lapsis Excellis is a symbol for the pineal gland- the third eye, and the whole purpose of the book was to activate this eye, and it portrayed the struggle of two orders of knights for the soul of humanity, and that while reading these notes stein came face to face with man who had written them- Adolph Hitler, who later expounded an image said to be from Basil Valentine to him.



Date: Thu, 28 Sep 1995 00:43:56 -0400
From: Michel Martineau

The whole purpose of the book was not to activate the pineal gland, but to
control consciously the opening and the closing of this valve, to use the
power generated by the flow of the first matter, because this flow is an
unconscious creating power, only the conscious individual can use it to
one's liking.