Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Bloody & Painful Legacy of 'The Sword In The Stone' - An OSR Commentary For Old School Campaigns

So last night I was prepping out for my OSR hybrid game of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition while simultaneously working on my Arthurian/Thirty Years War campaign. This campaign setting draws very heavily upon classic original Dungeons & Dragon game sources while plunging the knife of campaign setting game play squarely into Dark Albion & especially the Lion & Dragon retroclone system.
Today I want to address three ton monster in the room of Arthurian legend, 'The Sword in The Stone'. The 'sword in the stone' is the lynch pin of the Arthurian legend that gets overlooked by nearly every DM. The sword in the stone supposedly sets up Arthur as the rightful king of Britain & as a true seeker of the Holy Grail. Make no mistake that it is but its more then that. It marks a legacy going back thousands of years into European history.

"In Arthurian romance, a number of explanations are given for Arthur's possession of Excalibur. In Robert de Boron's Merlin, the first tale to mention the "sword in the stone" motif, Arthur obtained the British throne by pulling a sword from an anvil sitting atop a stone that appeared in a churchyard on Christmas Eve.[12][note 1] In this account, the act could not be performed except by "the true king," meaning the divinely appointed king or true heir of Uther Pendragon. As Malory's writes: "Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born."[13][note 2] This sword is thought by many to be the famous Excalibur, and its identity is made explicit in the later Prose Merlin, part of the Lancelot-Grail cycle.[14] The challenge of drawing a sword from a stone also appears in the Arthurian legends of Galahad, whose achievement of the task indicates that he is destined to find the Holy Grail"

I highly doubt that the sword in the stone is Excalibur but instead the sword of the Pendragons. This is sword of ruler ship that served Uther Pendragon legendary king of sub-Roman Britain who fought the forces of Chaos to a stand still.  If we look deeply into into the legacy of Uther Pendragon then it becomes readily apparent that there are once again two three different characters from European history. What we know  from standard Arthurian legend is as follows:
"Uther Pendragon (/ˈjθər pɛnˈdræɡən, ˈθər/;[1] Welsh: Uthyr Pendragon, Uthyr Bendragon) also known as King Uther, is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur. A few minor references to Uther appear in Old Welsh poems, but his biography was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), and Geoffrey's account of the character was used in most later versions. He is a fairly ambiguous individual throughout the literature, but is described as a strong king and a defender of the people.

According to Arthurian Legend, Merlin magically disguises Uther to look like his enemy Gorlois, enabling Uther to rape Gorlois' wife Lady Igraine. Thus Arthur, "the once and future king," is an illegitimate child (though later legend, as found in Malory, emphasizes that the conception occurred after Gorlois's death and that he was legitimated by Uther's subsequent marriage to Igraine[2]). This act of conception occurs the very night that Uther's troops dispatch Gorlois. The theme of illegitimate conception is repeated in Arthur's siring of Mordred by his own half-sister Morgause in the later prose romances; it is Mordred who mortally wounds King Arthur in the Battle of Camlann."

Where did this mystic +3 sword come from? We have more then a clue in the Welsh legends; " Uther appears in these fragments, where he is associated with Arthur and, in some cases, even appears as his father.

He is mentioned in the circa-10th-century Arthurian poem "Pa gur yv y porthaur?" ("What man is the gatekeeper?"), where it is only said of him that Mabon son of Modron is his servant. He is also memorialized with "The Death-song of Uther Pen" from the Book of Taliesin.[6] The latter includes a reference to Arthur, so the marginal addition of "dragon" to Uther's name is probably justified. "The Colloquy of Arthur and the Eagle," a poem contemporary with but independent of Geoffrey, mentions another son of Uther named Madoc, the father of Arthur's nephew Eliwlod.[4]
In Triad 28, Uthyr is named the creator of one of the Three Great Enchantments of the Island of Britain, which he taught to the wizard Menw.[7] Since Menw is a shapeshifter according to Culhwch and Olwen, it might be that Uther was one as well. If this is so, it opens up the possibility that Geoffrey of Monmouth's narrative about Uther impregnating Igerna with Merlin's help (see below) was taken from a Welsh legend where Uthyr changed his own shape, Merlin possibly being added to the story by Geoffrey.[8]"

This basically places the sorcerer's order of Merlin & 'Uther' center stage following in the wake of the Roman Flight from England. This details draws to the Eight One film Excalibur's character  of Merlin & the Chant of  Making.
"Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha."
" The Charm of Making, an incantation repeatedly uttered by both Merlin and Morgana, is in an Old Gaelic dialect that translates to "Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making."
When the Roman Empire left England it created a vacuum of power that the forces of  the Pagan gods & Chaos were quick to take full advantage of. The results of this can easily be seen in Dark Albion. This same succession events of power & rulership can also be seen during the events of the the political chaos of the Thirty Year War.

The symbolism of the 'Sword in the Anvil' is also key to understanding the whole of the legacy of  Camelot & the occult overtones. The sword is the legacy of Uther and anvil is the whole of England as well as the bloodline of the Red Dragon of the Pendragon family.
Uther is best known from Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae (1136) where he is the youngest son of King of Britannia, Constantine III. His eldest brother Constans succeeds to the throne on their father's death, but is murdered at the instigation of his adviser Vortigern, who seizes the throne. Uther and his other brother, Aurelius Ambrosius, still children, flee to Brittany. Vortigern makes an alliance with the Saxons under Hengist, but it goes disastrously wrong. Aurelius and Uther return, now adults. Aurelius burns Vortigern in his castle and becomes king.

With Aurelius on the throne, Uther leads his brother in arms to Ireland to help Merlin bring the stones of Stonehenge from there to Britain. Later, while Aurelius is ill, Uther leads his army against Vortigern's son Paschent and his Saxon allies. On the way to the battle, he sees a comet in the shape of a dragon, which Merlin interprets as presaging Aurelius's death and Uther's glorious future. Uther wins the battle and takes the epithet "Pendragon", and returns to find that Aurelius has been poisoned by an assassin. He becomes king and orders the construction of two gold dragons, one of which he uses as his standard.
He secures Britain's frontiers and quells Saxon uprisings with the aids of his retainers, one of whom is Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. At a banquet celebrating their victories, Uther becomes obsessively enamoured of Gorlois' wife Igerna (Igraine), and a war ensues between Uther and his vassal. Gorlois sends Igerna to the impregnable castle of Tintagel for protection while he himself is besieged by Uther in another town. Uther consults with Merlin who uses his magic to transform the king into the likeness of Gorlois and thus gain access to Igerna at Tintagel. He spends the night with her and they conceive Arthur, but the next morning it is discovered that Gorlois had been killed. Uther marries Igerna and they have a daughter called Anna (in later romances she is called Morgause and is usually Igerna's daughter by her previous marriage). Morgause later marries King Lot and becomes the mother of Gawain and Mordred.
Uther later falls ill and the wars begin to go badly against the Saxons. He insists on leading his army himself, propped up on his horse. He defeats Hengist's son Octa at Verulamium (St Albans), despite the Saxons calling him the "Half-Dead King". However, the Saxons soon contrive his death by poisoning a spring which he drinks from near Verulamium.[10]
Uther's family is based on some historical figures; Constantine on the historical usurper Constantine III, a claimant to the Roman throne from 407–411, and Constans on his son. Aurelius Ambrosius is Ambrosius Aurelianus, mentioned by Gildas, though his connection to Constantine and Constans is unrecorded."

The bloodline connection between the Pendragon family its line of wizards, the fight with chaos going back to the beginnings of England all make the events of Avalon the lost country all that more dark & murky as Fairyland takes Arthur.
"The days of our kind are numberèd. The one God comes to drive out the many gods. The spirits of wood and stream grow silent. It's the way of things. Yes... it's a time for men, and their ways."
Merlin Excalibur 1981

The Sword in the Stone' is also a potent symbol of the Celtic Otherworld as draws forth on the  symbolism of the Roman god Hades keys to the Underworld. A remnant of the inner workings of the Roman mystery cults which is also deeply tied into the classic alchemy symbolism. Alchemy being a key part of the Lion & Dragon retroclone wizard's arsenal against the forces of chaos. The sword in the stone might be one of the twelve treasures of  Clark Ashton Smith's
The Averoigne stories. Because of the of the deep connection of Lancelot family with  Averoigne. The sword could be a potent weapon against the forces of the toad god & his frog forces within Europe.  The sword in the stone has disappeared into the mists of history & would make a fine quest for a group of adventurers especially in Castle Amber. The Amber family's blood connections to the Pendragons might mean that the sword is in some long lost familial crypt in X2 Castle Amber.
We'll get into the deeper parts of the Chaotic fight with Fairyland next time

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