Thursday, March 15, 2018

Weapons of War & Fortune Within The Arthurian Mythology For Your Old School Campaigns

There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery.
"The Passing of Arthur", one of the Idylls of the King

Excalibur is the sword that seemingly defines the Arthurian legend but there are actually several weapons that Arthur wields throughout his career as king of Britain. Excalibur or Caliburn have many names throughout the series of Arthurian literature stories. I'm not going to concentrate too much on the 'Sword In The Stone' because that is a separate blog entry given its history, linage, and importance in ancient Arthurian literature & mythological tradition.
"Sometimes Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone (the proof of Arthur's lineage) are said to be the same weapon, but in most versions they are considered separate. Excalibur was associated with the Arthurian legend very early. In Welsh, it is called Caledfwlch; in Cornish, Calesvol; in Breton, Kaledvoulc'h; and in Latin, Caliburnus."

Excalibur itself has had many incarnations across the countries that the Arthurian literature appeared and its sigificanance in Athurian literature including Gawain's sword Escalibor ;
" The name Excalibur ultimately derives from the Welsh Caledfwlch (and Breton Kaledvoulc'h, Middle Cornish Calesvol) which is a compound of caled "hard" and bwlch "breach, cleft".[1] Caledfwlch appears in several early Welsh works, including the poem Preiddeu Annwfn (though it is not directly named - but only alluded to - here) and the prose tale Culhwch and Olwen, a work associated with the Mabinogion and written perhaps around 1100. The name was later used in Welsh adaptations of foreign material such as the Bruts (chronicles), which were based on Geoffrey of Monmouth.
It is often considered to be related to the phonetically similar Caladbolg, a sword borne by several figures from Irish mythology, although a borrowing of Caledfwlch from Irish Caladbolg has been considered unlikely by Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans. They suggest instead that both names "may have similarly arisen at a very early date as generic names for a sword"; this sword then became exclusively the property of Arthur in the British tradition.[1][2]
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain, c. 1136), Latinised the name of Arthur's sword as Caliburnus (potentially influenced by the Medieval Latin spelling calibs of Classical Latin chalybs, from Greek chályps [χάλυψ] "steel"). Most Celticists consider Geoffrey's Caliburnus to be derivative of a lost Old Welsh text in which bwlch had not yet been lenited to fwlch.[3][4][1]
In Old French sources this then became Escalibor, Excalibor, and finally the familiar Excalibur. Geoffrey Gaimar, in his Old French L'Estoire des Engles (1134-1140), mentions Arthur and his sword: "this Constantine was the nephew of Arthur, who had the sword Caliburc" ("Cil Costentin, li niès Artur, Ki out l'espée Caliburc").[5][6] In Wace's Roman de Brut (c. 1150-1155), an Old French translation and versification of Geoffrey's Historia, the sword is called Calabrum, Callibourc, Chalabrun, and Calabrun (with alternate spellings such as Chalabrum, Calibore, Callibor, Caliborne, Calliborc, and Escaliborc, found in various manuscripts of the Brut).[7]
In Chrétien de Troyes' late 12th-century Old French Perceval, Arthur's knight Gawain carries the sword Escalibor and it is stated, "for at his belt hung Escalibor, the finest sword that there was, which sliced through iron as through wood"[8] ("Qu'il avoit cainte Escalibor, la meillor espee qui fust, qu'ele trenche fer come fust"[9]). This statement was probably picked up by the author of the Estoire Merlin, or Vulgate Merlin, where the author (who was fond of fanciful folk etymologies) asserts that Escalibor "is a Hebrew name which means in French 'cuts iron, steel, and wood'"[10] ("c'est non Ebrieu qui dist en franchois trenche fer & achier et fust"; note that the word for "steel" here, achier, also means "blade" or "sword" and comes from medieval Latin aciarium, a derivative of acies "sharp", so there is no direct connection with Latin chalybs in this etymology). It is from this fanciful etymological musing that Thomas Malory got the notion that Excalibur meant "cut steel"[11] ("'the name of it,' said the lady, 'is Excalibur, that is as moche to say, as Cut stele'").

The quest for the sword is partially the quest of Arthur through the unknown wilderness of adventure hearkening the same sort of an adventure that PC's would get into in original Dungeons & Dragon's Vol 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, written by Gygax and Arneson, TSR, 1974. The quest into the unknown wilderness & dungeon for the artifact of ruler ship or the treasures of the ancients. Down into the underworld of the dungeon to delve into the unknown. Vol 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures puts the PC's into the cross hairs of the mystical & the unknown of the wilderness.

These swords & other weapons are ancient beyond the ken of humanity. They represent an older & more dangerous order of humanity & they are weapons of the gods taken to Fairyland eons ago. Excalibur is one of the most important but Arthur carried other weapons that are more then capable of cutting down the forces of chaos.

The Lady of the Lake offering Arthur Excalibur, by Alfred Kappes (1880)

The Lady of the Lake's origin & power are closely tied with Arthur's weapons of war;
"Lady of the Lake is the title held by a sorceress character in the Matter of Britain. She plays a pivotal role in many stories, including giving King Arthur his sword Excalibur, enchanting Merlin, and raising Lancelot after the death of his father. Different writers and copyists give the Arthurian character the name Nimue, Nymue, Nimueh, Viviane, Vivien, Vivienne, Ninianne, Nivian, Nyneve, or Evienne, among other variations.[2] In some versions and adaptations, at least two separate characters bearing the title "the Lady of the Lake" appear since the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Le Morte d'Arthur."
The powers of the sword Excalibur are closely tied to the Lady's own;
"In many versions, Excalibur's blade was engraved with phrases on opposite sides: "Take me up" and "Cast me away" (or similar). In addition, when Excalibur was first drawn, in the first battle testing Arthur's sovereignty, its blade blinded his enemies. Thomas Malory[23] writes: "thenne he drewe his swerd Excalibur, but it was so breyght in his enemyes eyen that it gaf light lyke thirty torchys."
Excalibur's scabbard was said to have powers of its own. Loss of blood from injuries, for example, would not kill the bearer. In some tellings, wounds received by one wearing the scabbard did not bleed at all. In the later romance tradition, including Le Morte d'Arthur, the scabbard is stolen from Arthur by his half-sister Morgan le Fay in revenge for the death of her beloved Accolon and thrown into a lake, never to be found again. This act later enables the death of Arthur at the Battle of Camlann."

Make no mistake The Lady of the Lake is of the goddesses of Fairyland & perhaps even the Elves of Dark Albion & the Lion & Dragon retroclone system;
"The Lady of the Lake began appearing in the French chivalric romances by the early 13th century, becoming Lancelot's fairy godmother-like foster mother. The Lancelot-Grail cycle provides a backstory for the Lady of the Lake, Viviane, in the "prose Merlin" section, which takes place before the Lancelot Proper, though it was written later. She refuses to give him her love until he has taught her all his secrets, after which she uses her power to trap him either in the trunk of a tree or beneath a stone, depending on the story and author.[citation needed] Though Merlin, through his power of foresight knows beforehand that this will happen, he is unable to counteract Viviane because of the "truth" this ability of foresight holds. He decides to do nothing for his situation other than to continue to teach her his secrets until she takes the opportunity to entrap and entomb him in a tree, a stone or a cave.
The Post-Vulgate Cycle's second Lady of the Lake is called Ninianne, and her story is nearly identical to the one in the Lancelot-Grail, though it adds her bestowal of the magic sword Excalibur to Arthur. Sir Thomas Malory also uses both Ladies of the Lake in his Le Morte d'Arthur; he leaves the first one unnamed and calls the second one Nimue (Nymue). Malory's original Lady is presented as an early benefactor of King Arthur who grants him Excalibur when his original sword is damaged. She is later beheaded by Sir Balin as a result of a kin feud between them (she blames him for the death of her brother and he blames her for the death of his mother) and a dispute over an enchanted sword.
According to the Vulgate Merlin, it was the goddess Diana's enchantment, given to Dyonas, that caused Viviane to be so alluring to Merlin.[6] The Vulgate Lancelot tells us that she was the Queen of Sicily, but considered a goddess by her subjects. The continuation Post Vulgate Merlin describes how she killed her lover to be with another man, but then she was beheaded by this man as a murderess. This story was later transferred to a lake in France, and was later called the Lake of Diana.
The Middle English romance Arthour and Merlin, casts Morgan herself in the role of the Lady of the Lake and residing near a town named Ninniane. The Italian manuscript Tavola ritonda (The Round Table) makes Morgan both a daughter of Uther Pendragon and a sister of the Lady of the Lake."
Once again we see the goddess Diana associated with the cult of the Elves from Fairyland & the origin for the Lady of the Lake;
"Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, the first story featuring Lancelot as a prominent character, was also the first to mention his upbringing by a fairy in a lake. If to accept that the German Lanzelet by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven contains elements of a more primitive version of this tale than Chrétien's, the infant Lancelot was spirited away to a lake by a water fairy (merfeine in Old High German) and raised in her country of Meidelant ("Land of Maidens", an island in the sea inhabited by ten thousand maidens who live in perpetual happiness); the fairy queen and her paradise island are reminiscent of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Morgen of the Island of Avallon in his Vita Merlini."

It would be these same Fairyland forces that would come to act through their cults during the Thirty Year War at "The Battle of White Mountain" when king Arthur's spear Rhongomyniad ("spear" + "striker, slayer") is also first mentioned in Culhwch was supposedly recovered from an ancient crypt!

"Excalibur is by no means the only weapon associated with Arthur, nor the only sword. Welsh tradition also knew of a dagger named Carnwennan and a spear named Rhongomyniad that belonged to him. Carnwennan ("little white-hilt") first appears in Culhwch and Olwen, where Arthur uses it to slice the witch Orddu in half.[1][24] Rhongomyniad ("spear" + "striker, slayer") is also first mentioned in Culhwch, although only in passing; it appears as simply Ron ("spear") in Geoffrey's Historia.[1][3]
The Alliterative Morte Arthure, a Middle English poem, mentions Clarent, a sword of peace meant for knighting and ceremonies as opposed to battle, which Mordred stole and then used to kill Arthur.[25] The Prose Lancelot of the Vulgate Cycle mentions a sword called Seure, which belonged to the king but was used by Lancelot in one battle"
"In Welsh mythology, the Dyrnwyn ("White-Hilt"), one of the Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain, is said to be a powerful sword belonging to Rhydderch Hael,[27] one of the Three Generous Men of Britain mentioned in the Welsh Triads. When drawn by a worthy or well-born man, the entire blade would blaze with fire. Rhydderch was never reluctant to hand the weapon to anyone, hence his nickname Hael "the Generous", but the recipients, as soon as they had learned of its peculiar properties, always rejected the sword.
There are other similar weapons described in other mythologies. In particular, Claíomh Solais, which is an Irish term meaning "Sword of Light", or "Shining Sword", which appears in a number of orally transmitted Irish folk-tales."

So why would any of these potent weapons so effective against the forces of Chaos be given to a champion of good such as King Arthur or the PC's for that matter? Because each of the Fairyland forces of Chaos must act through proxies. The gods & the Elves all have their little rules to make victory all that much sweeter. Wizards in the Lion & Dragon retroclone know that the symbolism to the people of Europe is just as potent as the mystic powers of these swords & weapons of Arthur. These cycles of hope & tragedy are eternally being acted out in both Arthurian literature & within the confines of old school adventures. This is something we see time & again in the writings of Clark Ashton Smith including his award winning poetry.
Scene: a cemetery, by moonlight. The Ghoul emerges from the shade of a cypress, and sings.
The Song
The Pestilence is on the wing!
Behold! the sweet and crimson foam
Upon the lips of churl and king!
No worm but hath a feastful home:
The Pestilence is on the wing!

Even now his kiss incarnadines
The brows of maiden, queen and whore;
The nun to him her cheek resigns;
Wan lips were never kissed before,
His ancient kiss incarnadines.

Good cheer to thee, white worm of death !
The priest within the brothel dies,
The baud hath sickened from his breath !
In grave half-dug the digger lies:
Good cheer to thee, white worm of death!

The Seraph appears from among the trees, half walking, half flying, with wings whose iris the moonlight has rendered faint, and pauses at sight of the Ghoul.
The Seraph
What gardener in crudded fields of hell,
Or scullion of the Devil's house, art thou—
To whom the filth of Malebolge clings,
And reek of horrid refuse? Thou art gnurled
And black as any Kobold from the mines
Where demons delve for orichalch and steel
To forge the infernal racks! Upon thy face,
Detestable and evil as might haunt
The last delirium of a dying hag,
Or necromancer's madness, fall thy locks
Like sodden reeds that trail in Acheron
From shores of night and horror; and thy hands,
Like roots of cypresses uptorn in storm
That still retain their grisly provender,
Make the glad wine and manna of the skies
Turn to a qualmish sickness in my veins.

The Ghoul
And who art thou ?— some white-faced fool of God,
With wings that emulate the giddy bird,
And bloodless mouth for ever filled with psalms
In lieu of honest victuals ! . . . Askest thou
My name ? I am the ghoul NecromaIor:
In new-made graves I delve for sustenance,
As man within his turnip-fields; I take
For table the uprooted slab, that bears
The words, "In Pace;" black and curdled blood
Of cadávers is all my cupless wine —
Slow-drunken, as the dainty, vampire drinks
From pulses oped in never-ending sleep.

The Seraph
O, foulness Born as of the ninefold curse
Of dragon-mouthed Apollyon, plumed with darts
And armed with horns of incandescent bronze !
O, dark as Satan's nightmare, or the fruit
Of Belial's rape on hell's bIack hippogriff !
What knowest thou of Paradise, where grow
The gardens of the manna-laden myrrh,
And lotos never known to Ulysses,
Whose fruit provides our long and sateless banquet ?
Where boundless fields, unfurrowed and unsown,
Supply for God's own appanage their foison
Of amber-hearted grain, and sesame
Sweeter than nard the Persian air compounds
With frankincense from isles of India !
Where flame-leaved forests infinitely teem
With palms of tremulous opal, from whose tops
Ambrosial honies fall forevermore
In rains of nacred light ! Where rise and rise,
Terrace on hyacinthine terrace, hills
Hung with the grapes that drip cerulean wine,
One draught whereof dissolves eternity
In bliss oblivious and supernal dream !

The Ghoul
To all the meat their bellies most commend,
To all the according wine. For me, I wot,
The cates whereof thou braggest were as wind
In halls where men had feasted yesterday,
Or furbished bones the full hyena leaves.
Tiger and pig have their apportioned glutt,
Nor lacks the shark his provender; the bird
Is nourished with the worm of charnels; man,
Or the grey wolf, will slay and eat the bird,
Till wolf and man be carrion for the worm.
What wouldst thou ? As the elfin lily does,
Or as the Paphian myrtle, pale with love,
I draw me from the unreluctant dead
The rightful meat my belly's law demands.
Eaters of death are all: life shall not live,
Save that its food be death: no atomy
In any star, nor heaven's remotest moon
But hath a billion billion times been made
The food of insatiable life, and food
Of death insatiate: for all is change—
Change, that hath wrought the chancre and the rose,
And wrought the star, and wrought the sapphire-stone,
And lit great altars, and the eyes of lions—
Change, that hath made the very gods from slime
Drawn from the pits of Python, and willing
Gods and their builded heavens back again
To slime. The fruits of archangelic light
Thou braggest of, and grapes of azure wine,
Have been the dung of dragons and the blood
Of toads in Phlegethon: each particle
That is their splendor, clomb in separate ways
Through suns and worlds and cycles infinite—
Through burning brume of systems unbegun,
And manes of long-haired comets, that have lashed
The night of space to Fury and to fire;
And in the core of cold and lightless stars,
And in immalleable metats deep,
Each atomy hath slept, or known the slime
Of cyclopean oceans turned to air
Before the suns of Ophiuchus rose;
And they have known the interstellar night,
And they have lain at root of sightless flowers
In worlds without a sun, or at the heart
Of monstrous-eyed and panting flowers of flesh,
Or eon-blooming amaranths of stone;
And they have ministered within the brains
Of sages and magicians, and have served
To swell the pulse of kings and conquerors,
And have been privy to the hearts of queens.

The Ghoul turns his back on the Seraph, and moves away, singing.
The Song
O condor, keep thy mountain-ways
Above the long Andean lands;
Gier-eagle, guard the eastern sands
Where the Forsaken camel strays:
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The Iardered graves of lout and lord.

Oh, warm and bright the blood that Iies
Upon the wounded lion's trail !
Hyena, laugh, and jackal, wail,
And ring him round, who turns and dies !
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The lardered graves of lout and lord.

Arms of a wanton girl are good,
Or hands of harp-player and knight:
Breasts of the nun be sweet and white,
Sweet is the festive friar's blood.
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The lardered graves of lout and lord.

The Ghoul and the Seraph  (1922)  by Clark Ashton Smith
This poem pits the very forces of decay & the forces of Heaven within an allegorical struggle amid the very circumstances of myth & legend something that seems to get all too lost in the adventures of the OSR. Players should be aware of the level of forces that are sometimes at work in old school games. Smith evokes the early echoes of the Arthurian wilderness adventures without falling into the traps of the wilderness. The potent symbol of the ancient artifact or weapon within the dungeon echoes the wilderness & ruins so often associated with the Arthurian mythology & legends

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