Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Longsax (langseax) Replica

Years ago I treated of Arthur's sword, including the motif known as the 'Sword in the Stone', first found in the work of the 12th-13th century French romance writer Robert de Boron. This material can be found here (a chapter from my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON):

At that time I was fooling around with another idea - one that I didn't believe anyone would take seriously.  I've held that idea in abeyance ever since.  However, for the sake of engaging in "full disclosure", I've decided to go ahead and post what may be an interesting, if less viable explanation for the 'Sword in the Stone' story here on my blog site.  

Please note that I cannot even claim that the following theory is original.  It may once have been so, but as publication is all that matters, it is entirely possible another Arthurian researcher has beaten me to the punch.

It has long been recognized that words for Saxon, a particular kind of knife or short sword and for stone are either identical or very similar to each other in various languages.  Although it makes for a rather boring presentation, the easiest way to get this point across is to offer the spellings and etymologies in question:

Latin saxum

a large stone, rough stone, broken rock, boulder, rock

Anglo-Saxon seax

a knife, an instrument for cutting, a short sword, dagger

Saxon -

From Middle English *Saxon, Saxoun, from Old French *Saxoun, Saxon (“Saxon”), from Late Latin Saxonem, accusative of Saxo (“a Saxon”), from Proto-Germanic *Sahsô, probably originally a derivative of Proto-Germanic *sahsą (“rock, knife”), from Proto-Indo-European *sek- (“to cut”). Cognate with Middle Low German Sasse (“someone speaking Saxon, i.e. (Middle) Low German”), Old English Seaxa (“a Saxon”), Old High German Sahso (“a Saxon”), Icelandic Saxi (“a Saxon”), Old English seax (“a knife, hip-knife, an instrument for cutting, a short sword, dirk, dagger”). More at sax.


From Middle English sax, sex, from Old English seax (“a knife, hip-knife, an instrument for cutting, a short sword, dirk, dagger”), from Proto-Germanic *sahsą (“rock, knife”), from Proto-Indo-European *sek- (“to cut”). Cognate with North Frisian sax (“knife, sword”), Middle Dutch sas (“knife”), Middle Low German sax (“knife”), Middle High German sahs (“a knife”), Danish saks (“a pair of scissors”), Swedish sax (“a pair of scissors”), Icelandic sax (“a short heavy sword”), Latin secō (“cut”). See also Saxon, saw.

Latin Saxo , ŏnis, m.,

a Saxon;

From these we can easily understand how words for a short sword or long knife could become confused with the word for stone.

For a very nice article on the sax and its development into a sword-like weapon, please see  A sax was original a small tool or weapon and only later evolved into a sort of short sword.  By Robert de Boron's time, a sax could well have been described as a sword.  

Now while it is all well and fine to associate these words and suggest that a confusion may have taken place (e.g. a seax being pulled from a Saxon may have become, in folktale, a sword being extracted from a stone), we might be able to venture further into the realm of myth and ultimately, ancient religion.

In the HISTORIA BRITTONUM (Chapters 45-46), we are told of the treachery the Saxons committed against the Britons during  a peace meeting.  The Saxons hide their daggers, i.e. saxes, under their feet in their shoes.  When Hengist tells his men to draw their "saxas", they do so, setting upon their unsuspecting victims.  

The version in the HB is written thusly:

And here is Geoffrey of Monmouth's rendition:

We notice immediately that Geoffrey of Monmouth has caligas for shoes/boots, a word related to the Latin word for heel:

calx, calcis  N  C     3 1  C   [XXXBO]  
heel; spur; pad (dog); forefeet; kick (Roman toe was unprotected); butt (beam);

calceus, calcei  N  M     2 1  M   [XXXCO]  
shoe; soft shoe, slipper; [~ mullei/patricii => red shoe of ex-curule senator];

In addition, he locates the "Treachery of the Long-Knives" at the site of the future STONEHENGE.

At this point I would call attention to the so-called Heel Stone at Stonehenge.  From Aubrey Burl's "John Aubrey & Stone Circles: Britain's First Archaeologist From Avebury to Stonehenge":

The following diagram shows the location of Stone 14:

Gerald Hawkins and others describe the folktale associated with Stone 14.  As it is readily available online, I will allow my readers to search for it themselves, should they care to do so.  Some theorists have tried to make the case of Stone 14 being named the Heel Stone only after the real name for the current Heel Stone was misunderstood.  The current Heel Stone, which marks the entrance to the Avenue and upon which the Summer Solstice sunrise aligns itself to the center of the circle, could owe its name to the Welsh (or, perhaps, Cornish) word for the sun. 

Here is the GPC listing for the word haul, 'sun':

[H. Grn. heuul, gl. sol, Crn. C. houl, H. Lyd. houl, Llyd. Diw. heol: < Brth. *sāu̯l-; Llad. sōl] 
eg.b. (un. bach. heulyn, b. heulen) ll. heuliau, -oedd.

Y corff nefol y teithia’r ddaear o’i gwmpas, gan dderbyn gwres a goleuni oddi wrtho, y cyfryw wres a goleuni, huan, heulwen, hefyd yn ffig.:

sun, sunlight, also fig. 

10g. DGVB 141, di houl, gl. in aduerso.
13g. C 296-8, Dydav yr heul, or duyrein ir goglet.
id. 3810-11, Aun[a]eth tuim ac oer. a. heul a lloere.
14g. T 3719-20, Owres heul. Ac oeruel lloer.
id. 4026, heul haf ae rywres.
1346 LlA 20, Gloewach oed seithweith nor heul.
id. 91.
14g. GDG 340, Yno ’dd oedd, haul Wynedd yw.
id. 416, Hoywliw ddeurudd haul ddwyrain.
c. 1400 R 11557-8, a syr asygneu aheul a luna.
id. 14186-7, Pony welwch chwir heul yn hwylaw r awyr.
c. 1400 RB ii. 337, ac y bu diffyc ar yr heul.

In either case, what matters to us right now is the word "heel."  What I am proposing, ever so tentatively, is that the story of the Saxons hiding their knives or saxes under their feet, i.e. under their heels, is a misinterpretation of the Heel Stone.  In other words, there is no sword in the stone.  Instead, there is a stone wrongly taken for a sax/knife at Stonehenge, a place laden with Arthurian associations.  

If we wish to wax mythological, would could choose to see the rays of the rising Summer Solstice sun as piercing the current Heel Stone.  Metaphorically, a solar sword is being driven into the rock.  The sun-sword is pulled from the stone with the passing of the Solstice, i.e. when the rays are no longer blocked by the Heel Stone at the time of sunrise.  NOTE:  According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, the slaughter of the Britons by the Saxons at Stonehenge happened on May Day (the ancient Celtic Beltine), not on the Summer Solstice.  A May Day slaughter smacks of the sacrificial.  

Summer Solstice Sunrise Over the Heel Stone

Of course, none of this has anything to do with some kind of real Arthurian "kingship legitimacy test".  The 'Sword in the Stone' is a late story, composed of equal part invention and equal part folklore.  A misinterpretation of 'Heel Stone' at Stonehenge may have contributed to the motif. It does not belong to sub-Roman or early Medieval British history.  


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