The Gateway to the Realms of Arthur

In his novel The Moon of Gomrath Alan Garner places the last resting place of - your friend and mine - King Arthur in a cave under Alderley Edge, in Cheshire, set behind two iron gates. Corny metaphor it may be - but what significance have these gates for us..?

We, the Arthurian Society, step through this gateway into the exciting world of King Arthur, the Once and Future King. Within this world there are a great number of realms which it is possible to explore...

Perhaps most obviously, there is the realm of Legend. The legends of King Arthur have entertained and influenced people for centuries. The saga of King Arthur's birth, background, reign and death (or lack of it!) is fascinating in itself, but around Arthur stand a number of figures each with their own places in mythology, including the sage and enchanter, Merlin, Arthur's half-sister and occasional opponent Morgan le Fay, his nephew Sir Gawain, the lovers Tristan and Isolde, and of course Arthur's queen, Guinevere, and her champion Sir Lancelot, to name but a few.

Although the figures of Arthurian legend may be most familiar in mediaeval garb, the earliest tales concerning him were told by the Celtic peoples of Britain and Brittany, and it is from these lands that much of the mystery of the legend derives. Can, for example, the Holy Grail be identified with Celtic symbolism? Is Merlin a representation of an historical Celtic shaman? Mystery brings us on to religion - are there clues to pre-Christian beliefs in the Welsh legends, for example? This is not to forget that to many Arthur was and is the epitome of Christian kingship. The Annales Cambriae, one of the earliest documents to mention Arthur, described him bearing "the cross of Christ on his shoulders for three days and nights", and by the later Middle Ages the Quest for the Holy Grail was established as a Christian allegory.

The legend has of course come down to us through the realm of Literature. Ever since the time of Arthur himself, the image of this 'Greatest of Kings' has captured the imagination of writers, from the obscure and anonymous, to highly regarded authors such as Malory, Spenser and Tennyson. Much of the vast corpus of Arthurian literature of centuries past is still in print in a variety of editions. Today, there are still novelists adding their own Arthurian works to the shelves, some opting for the fantasy genre, others taking a more 'historical' approach, in attempting to give readers their version of King Arthur.

Mention of historical novels leads us to the realm of History itself. The world of Arthur is not purely one of romance and stories - it's also possible to seek the facts behind the fables. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this realm is that it is a land of hypothesis. There is so little documentation on fifth and sixth century Britain that it is virtually impossible, though enjoyable, to prove your theories about where Arthur might have lived, fought and ruled. Dark Age history is like a jigsaw which has lost most of its pieces - which is perhaps why it's so intriguing a period to explore!

Neighbouring the realm of History we find that of Archaeology. This is an area which enables us to glimpse at what day-to-day life might have been like in these near-unchronicled periods of our past, and come closer to capturing the essence of times long ago. Moreover, the island of Britain is permeated with monuments and remains of this and earlier periods which have been identified with Arthurian legend. These include places of religious or military importance, and mysterious relics left by long-lost peoples, such as Stonehenge...

In the Arthurian Society, we hope we can be in touch with all these realms and make sure that the bounds of Arthur's Empire stretch as widely as ever they did. Not only do we have visiting speakers as emissaries from these diverse regions of Arthuriana, we also attempt to keep the spirit of Arthur's legendary kingdom alive, through a number of different events. In our Mediaeval Banquet this term, and Celtic Festival later in the year, we robe ourselves in the raiments of the lords and ladies of Logres and feast in Arthur's hall. We try to live up to the promise of wine, women and song... or men, mead and merriment We also remember some of the festivals that marked the turning points of the medi‘val year. This term we gather around the bonfire as winter approaches, give the old year a wake with food, drink and songs, and tell stories of Arthur and his court. We usually have our own way of celebrating May Morning as well! Although all this may suggest that the site of Camelot was indeed on the Cherwell (possibly actually afloat, if the Punt Party is anything to go by) we don't neglect the connections of other places to Arthur - in fact, quite the opposite, as our pilgrimages show.

So, whatever the level of anyone's interest in the realms of Arthur, we are glad to see them on this side of the gateway, and hope they will find much to reflect on and revel in here. Arthur sleeps... but we might make enough noise to wake him!

Adapted by Matthew Kilburn from the original introductory article by Sarah Tucker, used in the early years of Ceridwen's Cauldron!