Here’s something that’s super great; spirituality is coming back down to earth. After a good long time of believing our bodies were more or less just cosmic burdens, obnoxious lumps of clay in the way of enjoying our light-filled divine nature, my culture is realizing that the body might not be such a big mistake after all. Maybe- just maybe- bodies are here for something besides reminding us that life s***s.
Maybe, partnering our cosmic soul with our unique body cultivates knowledge and revelation. Maybe, that partnering opens the door to endless possibilities for creativity and transformation. Maybe, our bodies can assist us in developing, revelation by revelation, experience by experience, a very personal wisdom of a stunningly singular style. Maybe we are not meant to goose step like little toy soldiers behind the teachings and revelations of others, avoiding the depths in favor of transcendence.
There is much to learn from other human lives; we stand on the shoulders of giants. At some point, though, we have gathered enough bits of material. Then it’s time to fashion the unique life-quilt that no soul ever has, ever could, or ever will fashion- except for ME. I am going to call that unique cocreative quilting project “destiny”.
Before wandering gracefully into the sword-and-stone subject, I will offer my definition of “destiny”. First: humans are born into bodies for a purpose. We are not random bits of flotsam thrown from the fickle finger of God to spend years knocked about in a pinball-game life. Second: the specific attributes of our human experience are what I call “fate”. Our particular body, our gender, our family, our culture, those folks important to us, strong events such as major illnesses and losses, etc., are the very particular material we are deeded (I shall not attempt to explain how) to work with in this lifetime. This fate material is the ore that we shall refine and fashion; this is the lead we shall turn into the symbolic alchemist’s gold. Three: WHAT WE DO WITH THE FATE WE ARE GIVEN IS “DESTINY”.
So, depending on our bodies and our innate skills and our support systems and on and on, there are more or less strong tendencies for a particular thing to happen, or for us to travel down particular roads, to fashion a certain kind of life for ourselves. Our fates and destinies are always an entangled work in progress. There may be a strong tendency for a specific relationship to show up for us, for example, but the outcome, or the next life tesselation, the next fork in the road or right or left turn, depends on what we DO with said relationship.
We have free will, and choosing our destiny-path is very much based on accepting that truth. Free will means we have a choice in how we see and/or react to circumstances; it doesn’t mean that we shoot people in the head if they obstruct our desire. Though, of course, we can. Obviously. If we actually get a gun. And if the person is still alive. And we can find them. And they don’t shoot us first. And….. physical reality is theoretically so fun….
Lots of folks in my culture are aware of the very mythically impressive Arthurian event of pulling the sword from the stone. ONLY ONE PERSON CAN DO IT, just as only I can “do” my destiny. In symbolic terms, the sword-pulling is applicable to all of us; pulling the sword means we make the choice, if you will. We step forward and give our awesomeness a shot, perhaps countless times. We leave being a follower behind, and start taking responsibility for our journey. I will address the matter of choice, responsibility, and kingship/queenship in a minute.
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series is another well known case in this symbolic sword-point. Tolkien features a destiny-sword (Aragorn’s Dad’s busted up sword), and also a ring, of course. The scene in the film that I think dramatizes important destiny moments is actually this one:
Notice that the choices and challenges of our destinies are not always easy. It’s not always a walk in the park.
It’s an oversimplification, of course, but alchemically destiny’s DOING aspect is archetypally feminine earth element, or physicality. It’s the stone. The sword is archetypally masculine air element (thinking, light, spirituality and religion, philosophy, inquiry, intention, planning, goals). We all embody both masculine and feminine in our selves. Stone is the thing that happens or shows up in physicality, in emotions and in physical pain and pleasure, not stuff that’s happening only in your head. Earth is also the physical actions, interactions, and labor involved in a project. Playing a video game is air element; actually having an experience is earth element. Writing this blog is sword and stone; I have the ideas (air element), and then I manifest some Thing with them (the published blog). Writing on computers and sharing said writing on the internet is very air element, very sword-like, very ungrounded, all about light. But still it’s perceived by the eyes, so it’s minimally stone-like.
In any case, we are always choosing, whether consciously or unconsciously, which path we prefer in the moment; which perceived option (sword) to transform into a physical manifestation (stone). Spirituality that encourages us to consistently turn away from from the physical as impure, as “illusion”, as something to transcend, is, like this blog, more or less ungrounded. HOWEVER, since writing is a unique expression of my life, it is a part of MY expressed destiny. I do love adding images, for they help ground the work…
The Arthurian tales vary, as we all know (“we” meaning, I guess, those who might care). Lots of folks experience these ancient stories in their hearts, in their souls, in their blood and bones. Though there are different perspectives on why Arthur matters, my area of expertise is the realm of archetype, and therefore myth as well; myths are archetypal stories. And in case you didn’t catch it, here’s a hint about where I’m going; the sword in the stone symbolizes everybody’s potential inner partnering of masculine and feminine energies. This partnering, which usually takes place in increments over a lifetime, is wisdom development.
The origin of Arthur’s sword Excalibur varies according to the teller of the tale. One of Excalibur’s origins, stressing its magical or multidimensional powers, is its fashioning on the island of Avalon. That’s the magically delicious island in a marsh, believed to be contemporary Glastonbury (isle of glass) Tor (hill). The marsh would be the feminine part, earth and water, while glass is masculine light. So is the hill, for that matter.
Not surprisingly, Glastonbury Tor is topped by a tower dedicated to St. Michael, or archangel Michael, the great wielder of the sword of light, warrior against the dark forces.
‘Excalibur’ comes from Welsh, meaning “hard”, and “cleft.” On a mental and psychological level, sword symbolism is the “hard” masculine ability to cut; to divide and then discriminate between two things. This cutting, represented by all blades, is the skill of the intellectual mind, and people who exercise this “hard” skill are often seen as cold and unfeeling. In fact it is the archetypally feminine feelings that the intellectual person is ignoring; the feelings of compassion, nurturing, connection, and empathy. You can’t cut something in two and connect at the same time. Sorry, folks. Sword wielding goes just fine with masculine anger and its boundary setting.
Boundary setting with fire means you draw a line, which is the same thing as cutting something into two bits. And then you threaten something, anything, if the line gets crossed. If your threat has no fire-power, no vim and vigor and follow through, it will likely be ignored. Then it’s not really a boundary at all. It’s a gate, that’s got a barking dog that doesn’t bite behind it. We can call it a permeable boundary.
I offer this specific sword info because it’s currently an issue in the media: “healthy” boundaries. Often women don’t do well with boundaries because fire and air are masculine powers.
Sword’s cutting ability also implies an extremely important aspect of destiny: human choice making. Lacking a masculine-feminine balance, this choice making easily becomes judgmentalism, that polarized good-bad aspect of duality that causes so much internal and external war for our imbalanced society at large. Wisely used, choice does not require good-bad. It’s basically just “This, not that”; preference. Choice does not require that we oppose or resist that which we do not favor. There is no need to denigrate the path not taken- or those humans who have chosen the one path don’t like.
If we perceive this air element skill from the angle of battling demons, from the light-warrior perspective, then the sword also acts as clarifier. For example, the current very prevalent revelations of “evil” in American politics, in industry, etc. etc. is symbolically the work of the sword. Numerous kinds of horrid crap have gone on for a long time, but the sword of discrimination in these matters wasn’t available to any notable portion of the society. The sword of truth bravely acts to pierce the armor of those in power, when our destiny reveals the truth is more important than our own skin. We feel we must carry that Frodo ring to the fire, when we know that we are the man or woman for the job- whatever it might be.
The media and internet communications have allowed many to see what lies beneath public masks. The event (a presidency, for example) has been “cleft” into two; the simple physical event, and the previously hidden “evil” which formerly lay beneath. Again, air element splitting.
And the stone? Besides referring to physicality itself, in destiny terms the stone is our earthly kingdom or queendom found in many “fairy tales”; our experiential castle. That’s why pulling Excalibur confers, not only a destiny, but a kingdom.
From the alchemical perspective found in the stories I interpret, our domain, or area of rulership, is the same as our manifested life experience. We are all the rulers of our lives, including our choices to not consciously choose. The condition of our castle is the condition of our life. The human who waits for others to dictate their destiny, shall never attain its fullest potential, and therefore remains the perennial fairy tale prince or princess.
Which is fine. Not trying to be a destiny Nazi here; getting uptight about it does not help. Our destiny could be very humble in the worldly sense; it’s the inner experience of freedom and connection that marks it as destiny. And the reason we require both masculine and feminine powers for this rulership is that WISE rulership, that which is solid (stone) but also creative and therefore flexible (sword) is very much the ability to understand and utilize both masculine and feminine powers.
We have a lovely example of the power of the stone and its ability to confer destiny in the sense of a castle or throne, in the Scot’s Stone of Destiny, the Liath Fail (Singing Rock). For a short rundown, click here. An excerpt:
“The Stone of Destiny is a large (152 kg) slab of sandstone on which Scottish kings used to be crowned, when there were indeed such mythic and fabulous creatures as Scottish kings, and as such it has connotations of the rock into which Merlin legendarily thrust Excalibur. The English, hated and despised by the Scots, put their faith in the sword as proof of legitimate kingship. The Scots, hated and despised by the English, put their faith in the rock itself.”
Of course this spiritual embodiment thesis of mine is nothing new, in the broad sense. Perennially and universally, mind-body practices are designed to develop this partnering. However, it’s a bit of a shift I’m making, towards even more focus on the body. Maybe we thought “Oh, okay body, I will accept that you are here, and you are important, alright. But I would really rather transcend you.” We might have been selfish, in our motivation to respect and pay attention to the body. Perhaps we were actually looking to ease physical symptoms, to heal our bodies and minds, in some degree. And nothing wrong with that, of course. Gotta start somewhere.
But the sword in the stone is actually a JOINING in love and respect. And love, famously, needs no reason, is beyond reason. True love for the body means that we realize we are indeed one, in part; that we’re not going to pay attention to it only when it serves our personal goals. The stone loves the sword, the sword loves the stone. This unification follows from loving ourselves, since we are made of the two. We do use our minds to split them, of course. So loving earth element is needed to heal the split.
Sword in the stone symbolizes an understanding on a very deep level, that the greatest potential for our gold-fashioning in life is linked to the embodied knowledge that masculine and feminine are equally amazing. We accept that the understanding of these two takes time, and experience, and stop hating on men because they misuse archetypally masculine skills through ignorance and temptation. We stop hating on women because they are getting in the way with their immature use of the feminine powers; shame and blame and victimhood games, for example. We move on beyond hating, into choosing: This, not that.
As a sideline on the Arthurian sword and stone thing, the stone bit sometimes appeared in the legends as the base for an anvil. The sword was actually melded with an anvil, in that case, with the stone beneath it. The anvil symbolism is of great alchemical significance, of course, when we consider my definition of destiny. The swordsmith is then the individual who works the material (stone; iron and steel are stone) with fire, air, and physical force. Doesn’t matter whether we imagine the human as swordsmith or sword, because they are inextricably intertwined. We are not separate from our lives!
One of my favorite films, Jade Warrior (2006) is entirely based on this swordsmith destiny-fashioning symbolism, inherited from the Finnish Kalevala. I did a symbolic interp of this film in my e book here.
And finally… doing my research I discovered a sword-in-the-stone Catholic saint- whose saint day is my daughter’s birth day!
Saint Galgano did not take a sword from a stone; he thrust a sword into a stone, and so, seemingly, it remains. Interpreted, it’s very like the Christian cross. Air element or vertical dimension, the UP that we tend to imagine in spirituality, pierces through the horizontal, or the physical. This is incarnation, or embodiment, symbolized; the spiritual being realized, or playing, within the physical. And so there you have it! Happy destiny-fashioning!