THE KING WHO WILL BE AGAIN
In this book, I have revealed a chieftain named Arthur/Ceido who fought a dozen or so Dark Age battles against the Saxons before being taken to Avalon/Burgh-By-Sands to be with the Goddess of the Lake in death.
But for many – and this is as true for those who lived shortly after Arthur’s time as it is for us of the modern era – Arthur does not lie in a grave at Avalon. Instead, he continues to live in a curious limbo, a place composed of equal parts continued literary and artistic invention, entertainment and gaming industry exploitation, academic specialization and Celtic/Neo-Pagan
Under the latter guise, the shift away from an Arthur who is an attestable personage has, ironically, paralleled the renewed academic insistence on the non-historicity of this northern chieftain. For while academics now, almost without exception, view Arthur as a purely legendary figure derived from folklore and developed through the medium of medieval romance, the Celtic Reconstructionists reinterpret this greatest of British heroes in a multitude of ways.
Some still hold to the age-old Messianic view that Arthur is merely being healed of his wounds by Morgan le Fay in a spiritual versus a physical Avalon. They believe that he will, in the time of Britain’s most dire need (or, indeed, in the time of Mankind’s most dire need), come forth to defeat some monstrous evil. Others seek to trace their bloodlines to Arthur, to his knights, to Avalon priestesses or to Grail kings in order to inherit the immense spiritual heritage that resides in the Arthurian story.
There are even individuals who claim to be Arthur or, perhaps, a reincarnation of him. I have personally met a man who makes a very decent living ‘channeling’ the spirit of Merlin, a spirit who with profound and pithy pronouncements advises clients on how to go about conducting their daily lives and business affairs.
This ‘New Aging’ of Arthur would seem to be a harmless phenomenon, serving the positive function of bringing many new members into the Arthurian fold and contributing to a heightened level of spiritual awareness, as well as fostering a sense of ‘connectedness’ with ancestors and nature in an uniquely Celtic fashion. But today’s pagans need to be careful not to create alarming amounts of contrived information masquerading as inspired truth or subjective revelation that might feed naive, inwardly-focused belief systems. These last distract us from objectively obtained realities.
As a person who himself is not immune to mystical experience, let me hasten to add that I am not advocating spiritual matters be excluded from the Arthurian orbit. Cutting off this aspect of our humanity is not only undesirable, but thoroughly impractical. The human psyche simply does not work this way. What I am pleading for is a separation of what is acknowledged as fact or reasonable conjecture from what is intuited as having religious significance. Or, to be more precise, what we choose to adhere to as tenets of belief should be based upon or extrapolated from what we know on a rational level, rather than the reverse. Be spiritual about things/concepts that actually exist or once existed. Do not give in to the temptation to readily accept as the basis for belief anything that contradicts or ignores a body of evidence assembled by decades or centuries of intense scientific effort.
St. Augustine said “I believe so that I may know”. This is a dangerous credo. Instead, “We should know so that we can believe.”
Furthemore, any belief system, no matter how self-satisfying, should be eschewed by anyone who truly cares about Arthur and things Arthurian if it intentionally seeks to hide potential truths from us or block us from paths that may lead to genuine understanding of deeper matters.
Belief systems of this sort are usually promulgated by cult leaders who created them, i.e. those with their own often sinister agendas and need for control and profit. Any cultic use of the Arthurian tradition would be, in essence, antithetical to that tradition. Still, there always remains the danger that unusually susceptible minds could be programmed to make use of the Arthurian tradition in an unacceptable fashion. Those who wish to be latter-day Knights of the Round Table must guard against such a misuse of a code of conduct that, as it has been refined since the Middle Ages, promises compassionate treatment of all persons, places and things.
Most marvelous of all would be the development of a joint spiritual, aesthetic and scientific mindset whose sole unifying purpose was to increase and enhance opportunities available for those daring individuals questing after a real Arthur. If there were a core group of people of this ilk or predisposition, the whole thrust of exploration into the possibility of an historical Arthur would not only be forever altered, but in my opinion strengthened a hundred-fold. A solitary vision forged from divergent approaches and applied with discipline and conviction to the problem of Arthur is what is required for us to be able to bring Arthur back from the Otherworld of disbelief in which current scholarly opinion has consigned him. Like the sword Excalibur, made in Avalon and rising up through the water and mist of the lake, a new paradigm in the field of Arthurian Studies must be inaugurated, implemented and sustained.
Of course, our chances of finding Arthur – of ultimately proving his historicity – depend almost entirely on finding an intact, inscribed tombstone somewhere in the vicinity of the Burgh-By-Sands fort. Natural processes such as erosion, combined with man’s radical alteration of the environment and his accompanying willful destruction and occasional subsequent reuse of ancient monuments, makes the likelihood of our finding a memorial stone set up for Arthur of the 6th century an extremely doubtful proposition. Still, foolish as it may sound, it is just such an artifact that we need to be searching for. The discovery of the Cynric/Cunorix Stone at Wroxeter gives us hope that a similar stone for Arthur may someday be found at Burgh-By-Sands.
New labour saving methods of investigation now at our disposal, e.g. ground penetrating radar, allow for less costly, less invasive, less timeconsuming, less bureaucratic means of finally locating and determining the nature and extent of the Burgh-By-Sand’s Roman cemetery. Whole memorial stones or fragments of such stones may have been incorporated into walls or buildings.
A careful visual inspection of these kinds of structures may yield significant findings. Members of the community of Burgh-By-Sands could be canvassed regarding any stones in their possession that bear what appears to be ancient writing. A correspondent who lives in the town quipped that someone could be using an inscribed stone for a door-stop! Then again, Arthur’s Stone may be awaiting discovery in the foundation of the church or in the stall of a neighboring farmer’s barn.
It is also vital to attempt to ascertain exactly where the missing Burgh-By-Sand tombstone fragments were found. This would entail determining who now possesses the fragments – if the parties concerned or their immediate descendents are still alive. Interviews with such people might shed important light on the cemetary’s location.
If private collectors of Roman artifacts can be made aware of the importance of these stones, perhaps they would be forthcoming with valuable information, especially if they were allowed to do so anonymously or were granted immunity from prosecution in the event the artifacts in question had been obtained illegally.
Archaeological excavation work is always the final resort. All too often it is undertaken in advance of a major building project as an imposed afterthought. Time, money and personnel constraints add up to produce what is all too often a hurried, haphazard and incomplete dig.
Only rarely is a full-scale archaeological project proposed and executed because a site is chosen in advance for its own intrinsic merits.
I would put forward the Burgh-By-Sands Roman period cemetery as an archaeological site of astounding potential. Just imagine what it would be like to discover Arthur’s memorial stone! Granted, we cannot know if a tombstone was ever made for Arthur. Nor can we know whether such a stone, if made, has survived the intervening centuries. And even if such a stone were found, nay-sayers would insist that just because a Arthur of the right period could now be placed at Burgh-By-Sands, it does not follow that such an individual was THE Arthur.
However, if there is any truth to the Avalon story, and Arthur was brought to Burgh-By-Sands to be buried in sacred ground, then there is a remote chance that some trace of his presence at this fort has been preserved. And it seems to me that there must be someone out there whose destiny it is to find that trace.
Someone who wishes to prove, once and for all, that Arthur did exist.