“We shall now seek that which we shall not find”

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“Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England. Then the people marvelled, and told it to the Archbishop. I command, said the Archbishop, that ye keep you within your church and pray unto God still, that no man touch the sword till the high mass be all done. So when all masses were done all the lords went to behold the stone and the sword. And when they saw the scripture some assayed, such as would have been king. But none might stir the sword nor move it. He is not here, said the Archbishop, that shall achieve the sword, but doubt not God will make him known.” Thomas Malory.

One of the more striking things I saw during my trip to Wales was Maen Ceti, which was located in the middle of the open fields of Cefn Bryn, one of the purported places at which Arthur extracted the legendary sword Excalibur from a great stone, announcing to the world that he was to be King of the Britons.  While the story is generally regarded as the stuff of myth and fantasy, whose literalness weakens in the light of modern historiography and the archeological sciences, I have always found in my experience that oral traditions possess a unique capacity for expressing an understanding of people, place, and spirit that is often beyond the positivist limitations of rational explanation. Oral traditions like the legend of Arthur’s stone often evoke a concept of natural history in which stones, earth, not to mention the animals, exhibit non-human consciousnesses, complete with narratives hidden in the shape, texture, and material of their being. In light of which, Arthur is the hero, aided by Merlin, who makes the world safe for his descendants, ridding the land of monsters, villains, and marauding armies. Arthur’s stone is an indigenous legend from which a people derives their self-awareness of themselves as a people; more important, as a people who are deeply connected with their homeland, as signified by the sword embedded in an ancient stone, a foundational element that is as old as the earth itself.

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