Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Church of the Green Jesus

            Maybe you saw it on the way here? It’s easy to miss. It used to be notorious in these parts and lots of people came to see it. Now it’s just a small dilapidated building in an overgrown patch of woodland.

            How did it start? Who started it? What was it about? There's lots of stories about it, and it’s hard to know how much truth there may be in any of them. I've lived around here and been interested in the local stories for a long time, and this is the best sense I can make of it.

            Way back in the old times, long ago when this was still America, things became real crazy, even before the Collapse and the War. Maybe the craziness was a cause rather than an effect. I don't know. Any ways, it seems that before the end of the old times, some people were scared that the sea was about to rise and swallow them, or the sun was about to burn them up, or the weather was about to go mad and torment them and destroy their crops by unseasonable floods and droughts. They came here, well above sea level, in a temperate climatic zone to live what they considered to be a more holy life. It’s a bit like the story of Noah, but without an ark. Some say that these folk were atheists, some say that they were nature worshipers who hoped to propitiate their angry deities by self-chastisement, ritualized farming and gardening and blaming their neighbors. Why angry gods would be mollified by this behavior is not explained. Perhaps there was some echo of the Exodus story, with the 'good guys' expecting to be 'passed over'   when their neighbors got whacked. Maybe there had to be a sacrifice, probably blood. Other People's Blood, usually better than Other People's Money for making things happen in such stories. It's difficult to imagine angry gods being satisfied with an offering of fresh vegetables, now isn't it? There is that Cain and Abel precedent.

            When the bad times came, everyone got whacked. Some of the 'Greenies', as they were known, survived; probably helped by having become proficient kitchen gardeners- and by ceasing to blame their neighbors. This is all background. The real story begins a bit later, after the War, in the Templar Era.

            At that point the Greenies were gaining adherents as well as a reputation for being 'holier than thou', which other people disliked; especially those other people who considered that they were the more holy ones. Who did these people think they were? Vicarious Atonement for the sins of others? That was Somebody Else’s job description! The American Inquisition became active, and anything obviously unchristian came under scrutiny. Part of the craziness hanging over from the old times was that some of these 'Greenies' had been known to boast of being wizards, apparently without having the expected skills of being able to turn opponents into green frogs, and so forth. This was remembered against them. At that time one of the most popular Biblical quotes became, 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' Some have claimed to discern different shades or colors of witchcraft, but to the popular mind, and to religious orthodoxy, it’s all black. Some of them became air pollution and cinders, a particularly sad fate for those reputed to have abhorred carbon for some obscure reason. The fate of our community of 'Greenies' was different.

            This is where the Templars enter the story. There are many tales about the Templars. There were also whispers that some at least were heretics. Well, green eyed envy ever besmirches the successful as well as the useful, and there's no doubt that the Templars were both successful and useful. Many were evidently pious and humble, even mystical, qualities often denigrated by the worldly.

         It seems that the Templar Preceptor for this district took an interest in the fate of our local 'Greenies' for some reason. Perhaps he may have liked their leader, who seems to have been a colorful character, noted in the stories under various pseudonyms such as 'Arch-priest Jeremiah'.  In any case, as the local story goes, one afternoon the Preceptor paid a visit to the 'Arch-priest'. The arrival of a group of well-armed and well mounted men in Templar uniform caused much perturbation in those who saw them pass, and who answered their polite request for directions to the dwelling of the Arch-priest, who lived in a big farmhouse with a group of his followers.  The Petrine mutterings of these followers were quickly quelled by more thoughtful assessment of the Preceptor's escort of hard faced war veterans. When it became clear that the Preceptor was there to visit the Arch-priest, but not to arrest him, the followers, although not the escort, relaxed.

            The two men got on well. Both were well educated and well informed with broad interests.  After the usual social preliminaries such as discussion of the weather and the crop prospects, talk turned to religion, particularly the early history of Christianity. Was it chance or Providence which had decided which of the numerous schools of opinion were to flourish and be accepted as Orthodox, and which would be condemned as heretical? How strange it was that views at one time completely acceptable and spread by missionaries were later deemed unacceptable. What immense trouble the Christological disputes of Byzantine theologians had caused their state. How one of the Fathers of the Church had been condemned and excommunicated – two centuries after his death. How one of these holy men had written that whatever fables he had to tell the people, privately he would remain a philosopher. How St. Paul had said that he would be all things to all men to bring them to Christ. How some of the martyrs had been so in love with death that they had forced their prosecution upon reluctant officials. How some of the missionaries had adopted the local culture to facilitate the spreading of their gospel. How Pope Gregory had sent Augustine to England with instructions to take over pagan holy places and festivals and adapt them to Christianity. How the Bible famously allowed that 'in my Father's House are many mansions', without defining them more closely. The Preceptor mentioned that although the attention of the Inquisition had been drawn to this area, they and his own organization were very busy. He and his superiors were hopeful that the Holy Spirit would soon lead an upsurge of faith in this district, whether through seeing the condign severity with which the pertinaciously contumacious were dispatched, or through the mercy with which God touched the hearts of sinners enabling their repentance, remained to be seen; although he personally prayed for the latter.  The agents of the Inquisition were expected to arrive in no more than two weeks’ time, then the answer might be revealed. The message having been obliquely but clearly delivered, the two men turned their attention to sampling and appraising the Arch-priest's supply of locally brewed beer. Pronouncing it good, the Preceptor and his men departed, leaving a thoughtful Arch-priest surrounded by inquisitive followers.

            Next Sunday the Church of the Green Jesus opened for worship. When the Inquisition opened their inquiries in the district a week later, it sheltered many who might not have passed rigorous inspection otherwise. It was controversial from the start. Few believed in the sincerity of this sudden Damascene conversion, although all accepted that a visit from a Templar Preceptor just ahead of the arrival of the Inquisition could have induced a profound change of consciousness comparable to such an event. Seeing the light was obviously preferable to seeing the flames. Those few who felt otherwise had left to meet their fiery destiny elsewhere. Some of the Righteous were outraged; the self-righteous often are. Complaints to officialdom were met by references to motes and beams, the parable wherein the late recruited laborers received as much pay as those who had worked throughout the whole day, the return of the Prodigal Son, rejoicing over the salvation of lost lambs, injunctions to Christian charity, and much blandness. Naturally the members of this new church were closely observed, but no one found sufficient evidence against them to justify treating them as relapsed heretics, so the barking diminished as the caravan moved on.

            For most of the Greenies it was a surprisingly easy change, once they were careful to adjust their rhetoric and nomenclature. 'Global Warming' easily translated as 'Hell'. Strenuous personal efforts to avoid it, and widespread preaching to that effect were standard and expected Christian practices. Satan and his minions easily substituted for big corporations. 'Sin' replaced carbon in their diatribes. 'Salvation' became of much greater relevance than technology. Personal austerity and not-too-pointed references to greed, corruption and hypocrisy were likewise accepted as normal. 'Waste not, want not’ and 'You can't have your cake and eat it' were old saws. Proficiency in natural gardening and skill in handicrafts were useful and now necessarily becoming commonplace. Oil, or indeed 'gas' in any form, and their products were no longer available to the general public, so tirades against them ceased as they became irrelevant. The historically inclined could discuss the history of Indulgences and of carbon trading. As usual, beards remained fashionable for reputed holy men, and now also for many others.  Wild eyes and long robes remained optional. The translation and transition from a secular materialist frame of reference to a Christian religious one was not so difficult. As they ceased to stick out so egregiously, fewer of their neighbors felt that they were nails which needed to be hammered down. Indeed, as the Templar probably expected, after a couple of generations the members of the church would have been horrified had they been able to know and understand the true beliefs of their founders.

            They quickly developed a distinctive brand, market niche or theological emphasis. A special devotion to St. Francis was part of it. Preaching to birds and beasts still seemed 'far out', but the notion if not the practice, provided an acceptably Christian frame of reference for a religiously oriented concern with nature. The previous sentimentality about lambs had diminished as hunger and poverty made them again a profitable food source not often available to much of the population, rather than infantile woolly images of cloying sweetness. The Agnus Dei remained a highly acceptable religious symbol. Woolen textiles silently replaced synthetic materials that were no longer available. Shepherds were authentically Biblical characters and had a renewed economic significance. Speculation about the relation between their woolen clothing, the web of nature and the Seamless Robe of Christ which was divided by his persecutors, although it may have had the potential for heresy, was within acceptable bounds. Eucharistic symbolism easily extended from bread and wine to embrace mutton or lamb as the body of Christ, for those who could afford it, although officially only the former were Biblically endorsed for use in Holy Communion.

            The pious legend of St. Hubert who beheld a crucifix between the horns of a stag provided inspiration for a local style of flowing art depicting not only the very Biblical vines, figs and olive trees, but also deer nibbling the leaves of the Tree of Life, Noah's Ark, Elijah's ravens, lions and lambs, fishes, the Evangelical emblems of lion, man, eagle and bull, and any other reference to flora and fauna that could attest a more or less authentically Biblical provenance.  No one caviled at the occasional mushroom in discreet corners of designs. Corn (all edible grain, not specifically maize) and wine were acceptable, and no one took it amiss if a special devotion to St. John Barleycorn was sometimes exuberantly expressed. Indeed, and not for the first time, other and sometimes older faiths were subsumed under the rubric of Christianity without much difficulty.

            The state of innocence in this Edenic garden persisted for some years, or even decades. Eventually a smart young man named Jonas Caraway became prominent in this loose knit community. A throwback to an earlier era, he was definitely what had been known as a 'go-getter'. Jonas became a leader determined to craft an organization and a business-model which would have substantial impact and outreach beyond the locality and its community or congregation. He forged the Church of the Green Jesus into a vehicle to serve his special devotion to money and self-publicity.  His business talent soon created, if not an empire, then certainly a prosperous province in the world of recreational drug growing and distribution. The Church had become locally and discreetly known as a supplier of   marijuana and 'entheogenic' mushrooms, but Jonas turned it into a business, and combined the notions of business and cult. His early profits were ploughed back into the business, sprinkled liberally with pious references to the Parable of the Talents, and brought forth strange fruits.  The acreage under cultivation was increased, the staff or congregation was 'upgraded' and motivated to increase productivity, branch offices or Churches were opened across more and more of the country. 'Bishop Jonas' as he rapidly became, and his supervisors or Canons, were soon known to be heavy handed and easily offended, but there was little adverse publicity, and 'My God, how the money rolls in, rolls in!' was the overriding theme. 

            So far, so good. Or, so bad. A matter for the perhaps negligent or somnolent or corrupt local authorities and their perhaps incompetent or over-stretched police forces, but not something to gain widespread notoriety, you might think. So far you would be right. Jonas however had another gift, not exactly Eucharistic, a flair for self-publicity unfortunately combined with a sneering sense of his own cleverness. Not satisfied with success, Jonas had to improve upon it.

            The original Church had a sign outside it, a literally green painted image of Jesus. Certainly distinctive, but not offensive. It is said that at first this image had been outlined by a sort of flashing green light which glowed in the dark, much used by the people in olden times. Believe that story if you will. In any case, as success went to his head, ‘Bishop' Jonas demonstrated his wit by revising the liturgy of his church, and then advertising it. Smoking a marijuana cigarette became the new sacrament, and he would place a burning 'joint' in the mouth of the green image of Jesus, often standing outside the church building, laughing with passers-by and alternating the cigarette between his lips and those of Jesus, whilst garbed in his self-designed ecclesiastical cope which featured a huge green marijuana leaf on a golden background. Certainly distinctive, and very offensive. So far, so local. 

            A lamb not being enough, Jonas went for the sheep. As his cult expanded, he became more concerned with branding and advertising his products and himself. He packaged his products in green paper bearing a depiction of Jesus and himself standing together wearing Biblical robes and smoking marijuana cigarettes with the letters 'J' and 'C' over their respective heads and leering smiles on their faces. This Unique Selling Point certainly began to draw attention to him. His end was now inevitable, but just what the event was which lit the faggots he had so carefully placed around his own feet, remains obscure. One version is that a well-known minister of a more orthodox denomination pulled out a handkerchief at a church gathering and one of these lurid covers fluttered out of his pocket with it, to the scandal of the assembled dignitaries once one of them had retrieved it. Others suggest that business rivals who had their own discreet contacts, began to whisper more and more urgently into official ears as Jonas became more successful and as more evidence against him could be presented to the public. Out of sight, wheels began to turn, joints and bones began to crack, names began to be screamed, and the Hounds of God ran silently upon his trail.

            They say he did not die well. He was not the only one to die of course. Most of his followers were caught, although a few probably escaped, and many of his customers and business contacts shared their fate.  That's what made the name famous, or infamous, of course. Jonas wasn't the only person with a sense of drama and the ability to ensure that a message was heard loudly and clearly. His screams and babbling certainly were heard for hours. The executions were spread over the country and widely publicised. Special attention was devoted to the execution of 'Bishop' Jonas. All local officials and prominent persons were required to attend. National dignitaries attended. The local populace, including the children, were also mostly assembled there, few exemptions were permitted. Deterrence is more effective if you see the pain, hear the screams and howls, smell the smoke and the roasting flesh, watch it basted in its own blood, track the melting and bubbling fat, smell the appetizing smell of roasting meat, see someone you once knew become an unrecognizable distorted blackened lump, still screaming, whilst his blood and sizzling fat and soot and ashes smears your own face. It helps if you puke your own guts out over your own and your neighbor's shoes, and hear their moans and sobs as well as your own all overlain by the howling of the object that had been a man. People remember that, and pass on the story to their grandchildren. The officials and dignitaries, although many blanched and gulped, did not lose their dignity by moaning or puking or turning their gazes away like women or children. No mercy was shown. The event  lasted all morning.  When it seemed he might die too soon, the fire was slaked, or raked back. Others who had not been adjudged so guilty had been allowed bags of gunpowder around their necks to end their misery much sooner, but this was denied to Jonas. He was no martyr. He had no cause but his own vanity.  He lacked the dignity to die without whining and pleading and cursing uselessly. He deserved what happened to him. Some of the more hardened and stony-faced officials were able to sit smoking marijuana cigarettes as they watched. Another brand obviously. Marijuana is not illegal. Blasphemy is.

            The little church fell upon hard times after that. It was abandoned for years and neglected as nobody was left to look after it and no group wished to be associated with its name, for fear of being regarded as surviving followers of Jonas.  The name and the memory survived locally of course, and people knew the stories associated with the little building and its strange image of Jesus. After various tramps and misfits who had drifted by and squatted in and around the building had become nuisances and been moved on feeling sore, another group crystallized there. They were known as Diggers, perhaps partly in reference to the 17th century sect and partly because they cultivated and searched for mushrooms and spent a lot of time grubbing around. Something of the ideas and stories surrounding the place filtered through to them and in local thought they assumed or resumed the group identity of the Church. This group however had somewhat different interests. This time it was mushrooms and symbiotic forms of life. Many of the stories associated with these people are extremely strange and disturbing. Some may be derived from what they themselves said. Others may have come from what was later gleaned by the inquiries of the Inquisition. It is widely accepted that mushrooms are the fruit of fungi which attach themselves to the roots of trees. They said that the trees and the fungi exchanged food, much like, they also said, people and plants exchange different types of air. Maybe they did know more than ordinary people; I can’t say.

     The stories began to get a bit scary when they said such things as that trees could make their leaves poisonous to dissuade or kill animals which over-grazed them, and warn each other when the animals started to munch on one of them, and transfer food or water to each other via their roots and networks of fungi.  There were creepy echoes of ancient stories of people being lost in a forest where the trees slowly closed in on them, or of Triffids and Venus fly traps. From the olden days came a legend that the great trees of the Pacific Northwest coast had been fed on salmon by the bears which guarded them. There were whispers of bugs which got into mice, and caused them to act counter to their natural instincts and to seek out cats rather than flee from them, and hints that something similar could happen to people, maybe spread by parasitic fungi. Perhaps there was a natural mutation or some form of ghoulish experiment went wrong – or right. Concern definitely became Inquisitorial when rumors spread that they worshiped and had communion with the spirits of trees and desert cacti and vines from distant forests; but that must have come a lot later.  Obviously the only Biblical spin on anything which smacked of Sacred Groves or High Places or relations with unclean spirits led straight through the fire to Hell. At the time of course, their neighbors would not have seen anything very strange about these people. Tending to one’s trees and to one’s garden and to one’s own business was absolutely normal. Only later could people wonder whether these folk had somehow become taken over by their trees, mentally controlled by them and used as ambulant servitors. That after all would not have been so different from how plants used animals and insects to spread their pollen and their seeds. Maybe, as with fungi, they became more tightly and physically linked. Very nice for the trees if they could get people to bring them food and water, spread and plant their seeds and generally act as their gardeners. Fungi, trees, humans, each making use of the others. Was any one of them in charge? If plants could create scents and colors to attract insects, and some could give humans intense emotional and mystical experiences, perhaps they would provide some kind of feelings of happiness or even bliss to keep their human labor force content and productive. It’s only a couple of steps further to have them lay down their lives and those of others for their owners.

            A new artistic motif began to be noticed in association with the Church of the Green Jesus and its followers and hangers-on.That was the Green Man, a revival of a much older image, a man’s head peeking through foliage. No satisfactory explanation was ever offered, although later there was speculation as to whether it might have meant something. A wild natural consciousness perhaps, or human intelligence expressed through vegetable life, or a man assimilated to a tree maybe. If the Inquisition couldn’t settle the question, neither can I.  

            What was later settled was that The Men of the Green Lord as some of them called themselves (O shades of Osiris!) had formed a cult somewhat along the lines of the Thugs. They became great travelers, working as artists, carvers, tinkers, conjurors, entertainers, gardeners and plant distributors and so forth. They spread the image along with the cult, and used it as a recognition sign, rather as the early Christians had used the fish. They did not use the name of the Church of the Green Jesus, nor create local ‘branches’ -hmm. At first they tended to return there each year as a kind of general meeting place, and some of their gains, well or ill-gotten, were used to maintain it and its surroundings. It was probably rather beautiful, and their influence created a modest prosperity in several local businesses. They even established their own passenger and freight haulage businesses. ‘Tree Line’ or ‘Green Way’ or something twee like that I think they may have been called.  They are said to have acquired property in the district and to have created gardens open to the public, and their devotion to composting and mulching became well known.

            All good things come to an end, they say. I suppose the same may be said of bad or indifferent things, although they are less wistfully missed.  In this case the end began far away in a town where the Green Men had established several of their organizations. There are always a certain number of missing people. Sometimes they are found, in good or in bad condition. Sometimes they do not want to be found. Sometimes there is a hue and cry, particularly if the missing person is either a person of consequence, or a child or someone else about whose imagined fate a great deal of popular sentiment may easily and profitably be stirred up.

            ‘Ah, you just can’t get the staff these days, can you?’ Excessively rapid expansion of an organization, unrestrained ambition, lack of supervision and training, low quality of staff, lack of due diligence and risk assessment, all these and other familiar terms of business ‘cant’ may have played a part in their downfall. Along with bad luck, fate, the wrath of God, or probability, perhaps.

            It was of course a huge scandal. Several entangled scandals in fact. As the rigorous investigations of the judicial and Inquisitorial authorities established, (and we may be fully confident that there was nothing slipshod in their work,) a couple of low level Green Men had decided to improve their prospects by developing an unofficial line in kidnapping. Their victim, the son of a successful businessman, (and indeed, why would anyone kidnap the son of an unsuccessful one?) had escaped from the inadequately secured shed in which they had left him inadequately secured whilst they went on an alcoholic spree to discuss their future plans, none of which were to come to fruition in their actual future, short as it was to be. This shed was located in the ‘staff only’ yard at the back of one of the public gardens which they maintained. When the police arrived, in force need we say, their curiosity extended to the rest of the area. One of its facilities was a small bone crushing plant which produced the bone meal used for horticultural purposes. Some of the as yet uncrushed bones aroused suspicion, which forensic examination of the bones and of the meal justified, by confirming that they were human remains. Remains of whom, and where were the remaining remains, so to speak? 

            The opportunity to close many missing person cases stimulated police investigation in other districts, once news spread, and as the reluctance of detained persons associated with Green Men organizations to assist these inquiries was overcome, it spread fast. All the faster because of another interrelated scandal. In the course of investigating the gardening businesses in adjacent districts for more human bones, the murdered and abused corpse of a missing infant was discovered in a compost heap of one of their businesses. This child had been missing for some weeks and already there had been considerable public agitation about her fate. That nailed them. NO! NO! Not literally! That would have been blasphemous. We certainly don’t want to give a wrong impression about anything which the Inquisition might find objectionable. Do you?   I mean there was so much public outcry that investigation focused on them even more intensely. Although it was the corpse of that sadly mistreated infant which made them monsters in the public mind, the Green Men steadfastly denied any involvement in or knowledge about her death. Some went to their deaths denying it after they had admitted other killings, and protesting that it would not have been a good way to prepare compost. It may be that it was just a coincidence and some other murderer escaped justice when they were blamed.

            The investigators found that not only did the Green Men murder people for no better motive than to use their bodies to nourish trees and other plants, they had done so for many years, and made a profit from their sales of plant food. This news make many people look a bit askance at their crops and gardens, wondering just whose remains might be helping them to thrive, and resulting in a drop in the popularity of such products. A bit strange really, as people have no objection to eating plants and know that their own bodies will go back to the soil, ‘dust to dust; ashes to ashes’ potentially to nourish plants in their turn, but people are not altogether rational. It was soon seen that there was a strong correlation between the growth of Green Man activity in an area and reports of missing persons. Indeed, increases in such reports were able to indicate areas where they were operating without as yet establishing organizations associated with them. Initially investigators thought they were dealing with a criminal organization following a bizarre business model. It had few links to the recognized criminal underworld however. It was puzzling that many of the corpses were not turned into profit, but chopped up and buried near trees, often in the gardens and parks which the Green Men maintained. Sometimes portions of the bodies had been transported long distances to be buried under special trees rather than disposed of more conveniently. Indeed, at first the authorities had not realized that the connections went beyond the particular businesses and that the Green Man image was actually associated with them and involved people who had no connection with these businesses, and that the image, when it came to their attention, was the key to understanding events.  It was when the authorities discovered that such burials were not just a convenient way to conceal a murder, but were the motive for the murder; and furthermore, that it was the preferred method of the leading lights for their own interment, and that these leading lights had a special fondness or devotion for individual trees, that things became really serious. The hints of an organized religious cult underlying these strange and repulsive happenings, and their hysterical magnification by the popular press, immediately elevated the matter from the criminal, past the political, to the religious plane.

            It was an immense embarrassment. The country had been infiltrated by a well organized, extensive and criminal organization, and much worse - an evil pagan cult, without the authorities having been aware of its existence and of the dangers it posed. They first found out about it by reading the popular press! How was this possible? Why had the Inquisition, the organization tasked with protecting the morals and religious purity of the population and the state, not detected and eliminated this danger? This last question was certainly raised in high places, although the press had the prudence not to do more than hint at it. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? was a question in many minds, but sensibly it was never publicly asked.

            With so much egg dripping from important and humorless faces, someone was going to fry. Or roast. Many did. How then did the little church survive? Perhaps it had some luck, but by then it was no longer central, or even of interest to the Green Men. Their operations had spread far afield, and the businesses which were to prove fatal had not been operated here. Any connection with local disappearances long ago was not queried. The discreet graves of the founders under their favorite trees, or their successors, were not remembered and not disturbed. Its name was not used so no connection was identified. It may be that there were a few convenient deaths or disappearances which broke any living links between the Green Men and the Green Jesus before the authorities reached them. Now the tangle of tales is only of interest to a few antiquarians such as ourselves, although the Church remains part of local lore and its green image, somewhat restored, may still be seen. The Green Man is no longer a popular artistic motif around here, but you may still find a few such heads near old graves under the trees. Sometimes it’s even possible to imagine such likenesses in knotty branches or roots.

            Yes, we can visit it. It’s not far to walk, although there’s not a great deal to see. I like to stroll or sit under the trees about the area, and help to keep the place tidy. It’s very peaceful there, although sometimes strange thoughts come to me. What might happen, for instance, if we took the notion of a Green Jesus seriously? What if the Second Coming has already occurred, and we missed it? ‘When Jesus came to Birmingham they merely passed him by’, a poet wrote. What if He was here and we didn’t notice? What if he’s still waiting for us? What if this time he came, not as a human, but as a tree? What if we considered the Holy Cross seriously? ‘He came to his own and his own received him not’. Has the plant kingdom received him in our stead? Has he been there all along, but we have been too thick to notice? What about the Real Presence of divinity in bread and wine? What about the myth of the Tree of Life? After the Norse Ragnarok they expected a new humanity to emerge from the Tree to repopulate the earth. What about that? The early depictions of Jesus on the Cross showed him in majesty, with arms outstretched, outlined by but not bound to the ‘Tree’ as it was often called. Only later was there a change to depictions of a literal crucifixion. Enough questions before we attract the attention of a literal Inquisition.

            Here we are. That’s the famous wooden image of the Green Jesus. I’ll just wait and sit under the trees there while you look around. Sometimes it seems so beautiful that one’s spirit is uplifted and one seems to share with nature in some great rite or hymn of praise.There’s a sense of joining in a noble dance with every other aspect of Nature, of participating in a joyous harmony as if each species, in living, expressed some special aspect of divinity and their lives combined in repetitious but ever-changing ways, as a melody or tapestry to display the action of divinity in life to Itself. There He is, the Lord of the Dance, at the centre, and acting within all of them, inviting us to join, assuming or resuming the place that was always ours. Alas for us, since our pride excluded Him from our hearts, we no longer know our place, nor can we deftly tread the measure, nor subtly improvise without disruption. How clumsy are our attempts at conscious integration! What a ripple of confusion spreads from our determination to do good and to be right; requiring extended efforts from the more skilful dancers to absorb and mitigate our efforts. The vision fades, leaving a feeling of regret, and the image of a mighty river, whose movements have left an ox-bow lake, almost stagnant and cut off from the flow. This is where our egotism and narrowness has left us, almost self-severed from the spiritual source of our physical situation. At the last, arises His sadly smiling image, not crucified, not haloed, but crowned with oak leaves, and beckoning us to leave the illusory security of our egos and allow him to re-join us to the flow of love and life.

       Hearing the leaves rustle one may fancy one almost hears what the Lord God said to Adam when they walked together in that Garden, or what Lord Zeus spoke through Dodona’s oak. Perhaps if you are deemed worthy you may hear the answer. Ah yes, there it is. When the light is right it shimmers on the Green Jesus as if it was gold, and He may smile or even wink.            

Friday, 26 June 2015

King's Quest

Riding the White Horse

The breeze sighed softly as it breathed caressingly over the grass, which rippled, changing colour slightly as it moved and as the light of the moon glimmered through scattered clouds and its shadows played over the smooth and silent earth.  The breath of the Horse was in his nostrils; its blood pulsed through his veins. He was eager to run. His perspective shifted, no longer was he just a man seated on the back of that strangely flowing figure of great antiquity, known as the White Horse of Uffington, cut unknown ages ago into the chalk of the Berkshire Downs. Was it really meant to be a horse? Some considered it to depict a dragon. In either case, he felt that he was riding it, and had indeed become it as it flowed rather than strode through the magic of the night and merged into or traversed the paths of the inner land. 

William the Rider was experienced in making these night journeys, although they were not easy nor were their courses entirely of his own volition. This night the feeling was unusually intense, and the vision strong. He felt drawn along at dizzying speed, his consciousness blurring, as if to an unknown destination where his presence was imperiously required.

“Halt Rider!” he heard as his mind cleared and he found himself in the presence of a great golden Wyvern outlined in fire, apparently within a large but dilapidated Hall, whose dimly seen furnishings seemed dirty and decayed. “I am the Voice of the Land of Wessex, within the House of Wessex. I summon the King. His Land has need of him. His kingdom is failing and it his task to restore it. Carry this message to him. Tell him to meet me at a beacon fire on Dragon Hill within the month; else neither he nor his kingdom may long survive. Go!”  

Impelled even more rapidly and confusingly through the reverse of his previous journey, William found himself recovering his senses on the hillside as the sun rose over the serene fields and hills of Wessex. 

He believed the Voice, but it would not be easy to obey its command. This was not the sort of story which many people would accept. They would rather laugh and sneer, call him a drunk, a fool, a lout in need of being taught better manners if he persisted in annoying his betters. A good beating would be the least he could expect if he tried to contact the King, and the King would be unlikely to even hear the message, let alone believe it. The command could not be disobeyed, however. He could not be the cause of the fall of his country. He must find a way. 

Time out of mind, the people of this area had been involved with horses, and it was through this connection that a way was found. That evening, one of his wife’s cousins unexpectedly came to visit them. He worked for one of the stables which trained and looked after horses for the Royal family, and was on his way with a message to the Royal Court, escorting a riding horse for the king. 

That young man is far too idle and dreamy thought Princess Matilda the King’s aunt, as she saw her nephew cross the courtyard below and go into the stables. He pays far too much attention to childish tales about King Arthur and Good King Harold. He should pay more attention to the advice of the Royal Council and attempt to get a grip on the country as well as improve the management and income from the Royal estates. A young king who was more interested in old tales, servants gossip and galloping around in pursuit of foxes or hares than in the accumulating pile of reports of debts, unpaid taxes, unpaid servants, riots, disturbances, bad weather, crop failure, disease and disobedience amongst the people and corruption and strife amongst their rulers, whilst his own lands no longer produced their old income, but their debts never seemed to diminish, was not what the Kingdom needed. Her own son John would make a far better King she was sure. There he was again, coming out of the stables leading a new white horse which he could not afford and listening to whatever a couple of stable hands were telling him, probably about the horse. It was a fine looking horse though. 

At Dragon Hill

“Let the King stand forth.  Repeat my words to him so that he understands me. Let him speak his replies aloud so that the Land may hear him.” William uttered the words as they arose in his mind whilst he gazed into the blaze where his inner vision saw the huge form of the Wyvern of Wessex embodied in the flames, its wings flapping and its tail writhing as the flames moved, his attention rapt by the intense power of its eyes.

The circle of men seated on the ground around the great fire on the top of the flat topped man made conical hill nestled just beneath the great form of the White Horse listened in silence as they gazed into the flames. 

Slowly the King, who had been sitting beside William, stood and spoke. “I am Richard, King of Wessex. Who are you?” 

“I am the Wyvern of Wessex, the Voice of the Land. The Land has need of a King. The Land has summoned you, Richard, to know whether you will be its True King.”

Puzzled, the King responded, “I am the true and only King of Wessex. I am the only son of my father King Henry, who died last year. I have been acknowledged and crowned as his lawful and undisputed successor.”

The Wyvern seemed to laugh in a crackle of flames. “Very well Your Majesty, King Richard. You have been accepted by your people as King; but are you a True King? This Land needs a True King and will serve no other. A fool may be King, and many have been, but no fool can be a True King. Nor any knave.”

Now irritated, King Richard glanced at William in case he was mocking him, but seeing his vacant face staring fixedly into the flames, as the words came from his mouth in a voice that was different from his usual speech, said merely “What is a True King?” 

“One who is united with his Land as well as his people, and who serves them as they serve him. Of old it was said ‘The King and The Land are One’. Such is a True King. Arthur and Good King Harold were True Kings. It is a thing very hard to be a True King. In times of peace and prosperity an ordinary King suffices, and is soon forgotten.  For too long we have had ordinary kings. What has been created by greater men, and more than men, decays. Your kingdom is passing. Wessex faces dissolution and destruction from within and without. It is your responsibility to save it. Only a True King can do so. You are not yet that King, but you may become so. Will you attempt it? ”

After a thoughtful pause, “Yes. How should I proceed?”

“A True King is willing to shed his blood for his Land. Are you?”


“In token thereof, take a knife and pass it through the flames to purify it. Make a slight cut in your arm and let some of your blood drip unto the ground and into the flames. As you do so make oath to your Land, saying ‘I, Richard King of Wessex, by my breath and by my blood, do swear that I will do my best to be a True King to Wessex and will give my life in service to my people and my Land.’ ”

Slowly the King did so, whilst all watched solemnly.

There was a pause whilst William continued to stare at the Wyvern in the flames and everyone else watched the King as he stood in front of the fire binding a cloth around his arm.

“Your people and your Land accept your oath King Richard. They will serve you as you serve them. You are linked and each must hold the others to the task. Your first task will be to make a sword. This will be an expression of your rule, a Sword of State, embodying a link between you and your Land.  It is to be made of iron mined and forged and formed in Wessex. It must be the work of your mind and your hands. You will require assistance. You are not expected to do all the work yourself, but your effort and sweat as well as your care and planning must go into it. The materials are of the land, and the people of the land should have a part in the effort and skill required to make the sword which binds them to the King who will wield it and them, but it must clearly be the sword of King Richard.”

The Wyvern continued as everyone listened intently. “Your King and your Land need help. King Richard requires loyal service and assistance if he is to achieve the Quest of the Sword, and much more in service of his Land and people. Which of you will now follow the example of your King and pledge service to him and to your Land of Wessex? Let him likewise stand before all and make oath with his breath and his blood to serve them loyally.”

It was quite a mixed bunch which was gathered on this hill. The King had brought several of his friends and their guards and servants, and there was the small group of local ‘Horsemen’ of which William was the leader. Only the latter had much interest in the old ways or much aptitude for them. The King's friends were pleasure loving young men who had never had much interest in old tales and traditions, and were quite startled to feel some of the power of the Wyvern, although only William and a couple of his Horsemen could see and hear it in their minds. They were familiar with the commonplace symbol of Wessex, the form of dragon known as a Wyvern, but were astonished that it could be at least as real as they themselves were, and were much impressed by the effect it had on their friend. The servants were more familiar with old superstitions, loyal to their King and country, quite willing to follow the lead of their superiors, and pleased to have an impressive yarn to tell their friends. Thus, everyone followed the lead of their King, clockwise round to William. 

Elated by the experience and the loyalty of the group the King had an inspiration. Calling for his servant to fetch something to drink and a big drinking vessel from their baggage, he announced, “I thank you all and name you Companions of the King’s Quest. Let us all drink together to mark this occasion, and then let us think how to make the sword.”   

“Wait,” said the Wyvern. “Let all those who have shed their blood in loyalty to the Land, now mingle it in the vessel with the drink which they take together and then spill a little on the ground and into the fire as a libation to the powers of the Land of Wessex to seek their aid and participation in this Companionship and its Quest.”

When this had been done the King asked for suggestions as to how they should find the materials and make the sword. “I think most of the iron that we use comes from York and the swords as well” said one of his friends. “Excuse me sir,” said one of the guards, “there used to be iron mined in the Weald, long ago. Maybe there’s some left. Some of my relatives came from there, and they say that there were blacksmiths in that part of the country. ” 

“There should be a royal estate somewhere near there. It’s time I paid a visit,” said the King. “Now what and who else do we need? Does anyone know anything about mining or a sword smith? How about the scabbard and the decorations? ’’ The discussion proceeded and plans were laid. 

When they concluded and the fire was starting to burn low, the Wyvern had a final message for them. “It has been extremely unusual these days, and very difficult to achieve such clarity of communication, even at this site and through an accomplished Horseman. You will need his continued assistance and also a link with this fire to achieve anything like it again. Take some of the flames from this fire and keep them fed, so that you have small fires which continue this one. Do not let them go out. Then when you use them to light other fires you can imagine my presence in them and it may help to gain mental contact between us. This is particularly important for the King. He must light the forge from such a flame and keep it burning, for my presence and that of other Powers through me, is required in the forging of the blade. Now fare well.”

 Taking and Making Trouble

“He’s obviously mad. Something must be done”, declared Princess Matilda to her son John. “If he continues to carry on in this way, he’ll get us all lynched, not just himself.”“You heard about the riot then?” replied her son. “What was he doing there anyway?” she asked.

 “The Council were happy enough when he told us that he intended to visit and look into the management of some of the Royal estates in Kent. We thought he was beginning to take things seriously,” said John. However, it seems that after a cursory visit to a few places, he took to burrowing in some long abandoned mine workings. No one can explain why. Maybe the madness is intermittent, like that of George III. He’s not always mad; he even asked some quite sharp and pointed questions at the last Council meeting when that old fool Smithers was trying to explain his budget proposals. Somehow he got into dispute with a group of locals; perhaps they were bandits using the area as a hideout. I don’t think they knew who he was at first, but they saw a gentleman toiling amongst a group of more common people at a pointless task of excavation in an exhausted mine, and they mocked him. When they knew who he was, they mocked all the more. That’s how the fight started. He took a few bruises but his men had the better of the mockers, who departed dragging their injured and vowing vengeance and rebellion. Now Sheriff Bates has the task of tracking them down and hanging them, without enough men to maintain order in the rest of the county, and without sparking another uprising. He is not happy. One good thing seems to have come out of it though. Richard is now training very hard, and practising wrestling and the use of weapons every day with the Guard. They tell me he is becoming quite a good fighter. He’s courageous and determined. They like him.” After a moment John added, “He won’t be easy to put down.”

“Hmmph,” sniffed Matilda. “He’s also become an apprentice blacksmith I hear. Perhaps he’ll be better at that than at being King. It’s not just that it’s bad for the country when its King is a fool to be mocked by every low fellow, its mortifying for us, his relatives, to be associated with him and be laughed at or pitied by the people we meet. Yesterday Cecily was quite condescending in her sympathy to me on Richard’s sad state.” She added, apparently irrelevantly, “He spends all his time with labourers and guardsmen nowadays, and never seems to be interested in meeting any nice girls. I wonder is he... normal? ”


“Harder, harder, smite harder.” The words echoed and re-echoed in Richard’s mind as he wielded the hammer in the forge. Was he saying them aloud? Were they what the smith had said to him, or the Wyvern’s words which he heard in the roar of the flames and the hiss of the bellows?

“Harder, harder, strike harder. Careful there, be precise. Keep the rhythm.” The heat made him feel that he was being burned alive. His mind whirled, seemingly involved not only in the task of forming the blade on the anvil, amidst the heat which even the blacksmith declared to be unusually intense, but also in the droning, moaning, sighing, singing incantations which seemed to echo between William crouched in trance in a corner of the forge, and the living speaking flames which embodied the Wyvern in the furnace, at least in his imagination. “A good sword must be sung as well as struck into life. Sing. Let your soul sing .” His will and his hardened body kept him striking in relentless rhythm as his emotions poured out a babble of words and feelings which took on the patterns of song, and his spirit seemed to join both the Wyvern and the billet of glowing iron that he was striking. “Hard, precise, rhythmical; there is no soft or easy way to make a sword or mend a kingdom or rule it. This Land will not endure a soft or easy ruler. Strike! Feel each blow. It is yourself as well as your sword and your kingdom that you are shaping. The King and the Land must be One. You must drive out impurities from yourself and from your kingdom, and shape both to your will and to the needs of the Land. You free and shape and strengthen and wield your kingdom as you do your sword and yourself.”

The image of the Wyvern filled his vision as he toiled. Its gaze and its words filled his mind. “This Land needs a True King. It is too long since it had one. Think not that I and the Powers of the Land toil with you just to benefit you and your people. No! Together we forge and form a kingdom; that is true, but there is more. A True King needs the empowerment of the Land to rule justly and well, but the Land needs a True King to inspire or en-spirit it. Through the focal point of his trained and attuned mind may flow higher spiritual influences to the Land, bringing conscious awareness of higher states and the patterns of how things should be. It is the function of a True King to be that link between the three levels. Making a Sword is just the start. Few men or even Kings know this. They do not understand it. They despise it. It is the burden and glory of a True King. It is not all his doing, but if it is not done, not only will the kingdom fall and the people perish, but the inner foundations of the Land – laid so very, very long ago, by Beings greater than those of the present age, crumble and dissolve beyond consciousness and recall.  Beasts die, men die, kingdoms fall, even Cosmos fades; and all the sooner from neglect. Is it not a fine jest that the greatest among men should be a janitor of Cosmos?”

So the toil proceeded for many days, more than the time usually required to make a sword, not as many sneered, because the King was a weak, clumsy and inadequate apprentice. Blacksmith and sword smith were pleased by his work.  A novice could not do it all by himself, but they were impressed by his determination to do as much as he could, even if they were slightly unnerved by the mutterings of William in his corner and the subdued babbling  and singing of the King. They admired his ability to withstand the unusually fierce heat of this furnace, and if they were disturbed by the fey atmosphere of the place and the rumours that swirled around the person of the King, they said nothing about it, well pleased by their remuneration to adhere to the oath of silence which the King had insisted upon. 

At length the Wyvern spoke in the mind of the King that enough and more than enough had been done, and the smiths concurred. “As you serve the Land, the Land serves you,” the Wyvern told him. “It was said, with what truth I know not, that gods and men lived each other’s deaths. You have shown your intention to be a True King despite the cost. On the other side has been found one willing to meet and match your sacrifice. This spirit has been bound to you and embodied in the blade. This is not one of the dragon slaying blades of legend, but the confinement of the consciousness of such a being within these limitations is like death to it. Respect it and wield it well. Now you may quench and finish the sword and make its fittings.” 

So the sword was quenched in water containing some of the blood and sweat of the King. Aided by a goldsmith, the King engraved two words upon the blade and inlaid them with gold, which many centuries before had been mined from his land. On one side was the word ‘Richard’ and on the other was the word ‘Wessex’. The goldsmith completed the ornamentation of the sword and other artisans completed the handle and the scabbard and sword belt to the directions of the king and made a traveling case in which it could be carried and upon which it could be stood.  

When all the work had been done and the King had polished the sword brightly, the Wyvern spoke to him again. “You have done well, but the sword is not ready for use. It is not yet ‘alive’. These efforts are somewhat like pregnancy and birth. Not all succeed despite the best efforts of the parents. Bury it carefully in the earth of Dragon’s Hill, where the idea of it was conceived, and leave it to come to term, well guarded by William and a couple of your men. If and when it becomes ready to be ‘born’ we will tell you to unearth it, display it to your people and make use of its powers. None then will be able to doubt that you are a True King. If all goes well the sword should come to birth as winter gives way to spring. Until then look to your realm as best you can.”

More trouble

“He’s no less mad,” sighed the Princess Matilda, “even if the madness has taken another form.”  “Well”, said her son, “he seems to have lost interest in blacksmithing and sword making, and even to have lost or forgotten about that sword he went to so much trouble to make.” “Doesn’t that prove that he’s mad?” asked his querulous mother. “Can’t the doctors and the Council be persuaded to see that?”  “Hardly,” said John. “A man, even a King, may have eccentric hobbies and sudden changes of interest, without being judged insane and tipped out of his house or off his throne. To most people he seems fairly normal, albeit rash and eccentric. He’d have to do something really outrageous and leave the ‘people who matter’ as a whole feeling endangered before usurpation would be tolerated. It’s not even as if we’re any more popular, and we certainly don’t have a lot of military force or the means to buy friends.”

“Until he marries and provides a son, although you’re his older cousin you’re still the Heir Apparent. I’d be the Mother of the King.”

Dear Mother, please stop playing Margaret Beaufort and trying to turn me into Henry VII he thought to himself in exasperation. Aloud he said, “Richard’s now promoting patriotism and presenting himself as a King of Justice. There’s certainly enough crime and dissatisfaction to keep him busy.”

“Huh! I thought it was some new religion he was setting up to worship the Wyvern. He put up those altars with little fires on them which the servants have to keep tended, under pictures and banners of the Wyvern. It must be a fire risk, besides being a nuisance and distraction from their other work. Some of the sillier maids are convinced that the Wyvern has spoken to them or that they’re seen it flying around.”

“It must have been flames flickering in dimness or draughts moving the banners,” suggested John. “He’s gone round all the local villages telling them to put up Wyvern images over their village halls or headman’s houses and to keep burning a fire dedicated to the Wyvern which he presented to them, and to offer it twigs and happy thoughts and to request the aid of the Wise Wyvern of Wessex when they need advice or to make a decision. The children love it. He’s also sent similar instructions to all the towns and counties as well as to the Royal estates. The Council liked the idea of promoting patriotism and distracting people from their grumbles. I don’t think that the sheriffs have found it helpful in reducing crime though. ”

Matilda’s eyes shone with malice. “They’ll soon get bored, and feel foolish. It’ll end by making him seem crazy, and they’ll blame him for making them feel foolish.”

Winter was bleak and cold and long. No word came from William or from the Wyvern. People continued to grumble and to starve. The King’s initiative had caused some revival of patriotism and participation in traditional practices. People talked of Good King Harold and told tales of the plentiful bounty of nature that had supposedly flourished in his days, when the crops grew just to please him, as some said. Others became more raucous and contemptuous in their rejection of all such things.

Good King Harold and his Iron Wyrm

One of the most popular tales about Good King Harold featured his Iron Wyrm. Travellers who had visited Winchester claimed to have seen it. It was kept in a shed, on a section of dual iron tracks, and carefully tended and kept clean by its guardians, who liked to display and talk about it to the pilgrims and curiosity seekers. It was taller than two men’s heights, and what was most impressive about it was that it seemed to be made almost entirely of iron. It stood on two rows of iron wheels on either side and was attached to a carriage on similar iron wheels for important passengers. Its vast belly was said to have contained a furnace which consumed black rocks, and issued piercing shrieks and plumes of smoke steam and fire.  According to legend and the tales enthusiastically disseminated by its guardians, this was the famous steed of the legendary Good King Harold. Long ago it had ceased to function, perhaps because of a lack of black rocks, or because of the lack of a sufficiently good and powerful king, or for some other reason, but its guardians stoutly asserted that once upon a time it had roared and thundered across the land causing terror until confined to these iron tracks by the power and skill of the king and his mages. Their tales told that when tamed, the Wyrm, which indeed had manifestly once been a dragon, had been obliged to draw the king and his guests along this track, which had once extended across the face of the land, and even to burrow under hills at his command.  Perhaps that was where it had found the black rocks upon which it had fed. Alas, the king had died, and so had his Wyrm. Awed visitors looked at the Wyrm and at the carriage containing comfortable seats and windows through which to view the passing scenery, and wondered what it must have felt like to have gone snorting and thundering across country, faster even than a horse could gallop if one believed the possibly exaggerated tales of its guardians.  According to legend, it was Good King Harold who had tamed the dragons of the land and turned them from destructive monsters to beneficent protectors of the country and bestowers of fertility. The King’s Iron Wyrm was the only dragon which anyone had ever seen, and it was dead. So much for legend.


Prince John became irritated by his mother’s growing hatred of his cousin and her constant scheming and whispering against him. “I’m not able to turn into Good King Harold and make the winds warm and the crops grow to please me,” he had said after another of her tirades against Richard and her increasingly openly expressed wishes that the King should die and that John should replace him. “Even if I became King,” he snapped, “I couldn’t wave a wand and make everything right and everyone happy. I’d just become the one whom everyone blamed for everything they don’t like. In fact, if anything untoward happened to Richard, this country could fall apart, not just into civil war, but into anarchy. There’d be little enough loyalty to me or to you, especially if we were thought to have contrived or connived at the death or overthrow of Richard. He’s surprisingly popular, and unsurprisingly, we’re not. Most likely everyone who could attract the support of a few armed men would set up his own kingdom and fight all the others and pillage the unarmed until death or disease carried them all away.”

She wasn’t listening. “There’s so much crime and lawlessness these days,” she murmured to herself, “he could run into an arrow at any time.” Her son took her by the shoulders and shook her. “Mother! Stop talking and thinking like that. It’s foolish and dangerous. It doesn’t help anyone and if Richard gets to hear of it, he’d be quite justified in executing both of us for treason.” 

Privately, he thought as he left his mother, that Richard was becoming quite a steely young monarch, not a man to cross and no longer the dreamy youth lost in romantic tales of ancient times, nor the callow young pleasure seeker. He attended closely and perceptively to Royal business and was paying attention to the better administration of Royal estates and offices. A couple of the Royal Councillors had been retired. Several Sheriffs and other officials had been shocked to receive surprise inspections by the King and his staff. Some might feel privileged still to be wearing rather than carrying their heads.  Others were less fortunate. 

One story was that Richard and his companions had helped to capture a band of outlaws. Rather than having them executed immediately or taken to town for a delayed trial and enhanced opportunities for bribery and escape, he had taken them to the nearest village, where a couple of them were said to have relatives. There he had summoned all the men from their work, empaneled them as a jury, set up the Wyvern standard and the flame that always accompanied him, and presided over the trial. It had been a brisk affair with little doubt of the rogues’ guilt. After sentencing them to death the King had called for a rope, made a noose at one end, placed it around the neck of the first felon, slung the other end over the branch of a convenient tree, and told the villagers to join him in hauling on the rope. And so it went for all of them. By mid afternoon the King and his party had left and the peasants were burying the corpses, much impressed by the King’s justice. This young man was becoming a leader, not squeamish about taking responsibility and participating in any action he ordered. He might not like executing his relatives, but if justice or necessity impelled him John was sure that he would do it. He worried about his foolish mother and felt a breeze on his own neck.


Spring was late and well advanced before word came from Dragon Hill. The King was beginning to lose hope of the sword. He was still determined to be as true a king as he could manage, even without the assistance of the Otherworld. He kept himself busy, learning the administrative complexities of kingship, presiding over courts of justice, visiting and inspecting his troops, officials and estates, making himself known and his presence felt across the land, assessing the personalities characters and capacities of those around him. No one knew where or when the King might appear, who he might talk to, nor what he might ask. He took an interest in the work of craftsmen and farmers and labourers as well as officials and landowners. He heard many complaints and often had to patiently explain why he could do little or nothing about most of them ...the crops would not grow to please him, although his interest took the edge from many grievances. People got used to seeing his cavalcade pass, or even stop to talk to them. Sometimes he and his entourage would share a drink with them, from his own supplies. He was not extravagant; so many people accepted that despite the difference in scale between his and their income and expenses, his budget was as tight as theirs and his tasks more arduous than their own. He became respected and even liked. However, he did not stray very far from the centre of his kingdom, seldom more than a day’s ride, in case word came for him. 

One beautiful morning as his party was riding in the direction of Uffington, they were met by the long awaited messenger. William and the Wyvern had declared that the sword was awakening and that he should collect it at once. Hastening to Dragon Hill he met William and together they dug up and unwrapped the sword from where it had been hidden, at the top of the hill, directly under where the fire had been. It looked and felt no different. Holding the sword he sat with William, under his Wyvern banner in front of his portable altar bearing a fire lit from the flame he had taken from the original fire when the Wyvern had spoken to him through William. They communed with the Wyvern, seeking advice on how to use the sword. The wyvern explained that it would facilitate a meeting of minds when it was exposed in the presence of others and he held a question in his mind. It would get used to him and would demonstrate its power in front of an assembly of the leading people of Wessex which he should summon soon.

The Wyvern had some parting words for him. “This is the first stage of your quest for True Kingship, well concluded. Like Arthur you now have a Sword, drawn from the Land. Arthur was renowned for his cavalry. Those knights of quest did much to secure his rule and his fame. Who will be your Horsemen? A Sword is a great thing, and needful to a King, but do not rule solely by it. A King may rule by the sword, he may become great, honoured, feared and respected, but no man, not even a True King, may attain love at the point or edge of a blade. The Land may not be ruled without the sword, but without love it will not long remember even a True King. It is the love between the King and the Land and the people that will sustain them and enable them and their memory to endure. When the Sword, the vessel of knowledge, enables you to rule as a True King, your next task will be to find the Cup, the vessel of love. You will know the time for that quest. In that I cannot assist you. You must seek the aid of the Ladies of the Waters.  Now I salute you and bid you farewell True King Richard.”


“He really is mad. This proves it.” Princess Matilda was talking to Lady Cecily Danvers, Countess of Salisbury and a group of her friends. “He’s summoned everyone who matters from across the land to display his toy sword to them. We thought he’d forgotten about it and buckled down to being King, but the madness seems to have come back. This time everyone will see it and will have to do something about it.”

“It would be too embarrassing not to,” agreed Cecily. “A Regency Council seems the obvious thing, unless John has enough support to be Prince Regent?” 

“I’m very disappointed in John,” said Matilda. “He just doesn’t seem to care.”

There was much discussion and uncertainty as people took their places in the Great Hall and awaited the arrival of the King. Many had worries and conflicting concerns which they hoped to raise, and with the swirling rumours weakening the authority of the King there was little confidence that this meeting would achieve much, and considerable fear about what might happen if the King demonstrated that he was no longer a mentally capable ruler.

The King entered wearing the sword on his belt and strode to his throne, where he seated himself in front of his audience and with the Wyvern banner and its flame bearing altar behind him. William was crouched unobtrusively beside it ready to tend the flame.

“I have called you together,” began the King, “because the Land calls to all of us. For too long selfishness has prevailed. The links between the people of Wessex have weakened. The identity of Wessex is crumbling. The links joining the people and their Land have frayed as people have ignored it, seeking only material gain. Few any longer believe that there is anything else, that there is an even more important ‘inside’ to the ‘outside’ which they see and touch. But there is an inside to the Land just as there is to ourselves. I’ve called you here to show you.”

Gasps and murmurs arose. The King stood; drawing his blade, then knelt on one knee and struck the pommel sharply on the stone floor until the sword rang. “Awake! Attend! Serve!” he cried, and the sword sang. 

As the people stared at it, the sword seemed to shine more brightly, its sounds ringing sweetly in their minds, drawing their fascinated attention. “We are Wessex,” said the King quietly, and they knew that this was true. “There is more to Wessex,” he added, and slowly they became aware of the growing form of the Wyvern embodied in the flames of the altar, which William was assiduously feeding. A consciousness of its majesty and their joint integrity grew amongst them as the King added, “This is the Wyvern of Wessex, the Voice of the Land. It unifies us, which is why it is our emblem. Its wisdom will assist our deliberations. You perceive it now because of the magnifying influence of this sword, whose virtue is awareness of truth. The Land calls us to attend and serve it, as it serves us. Who will serve Wessex? Who will not serve Wessex? Who has acted or will act against Wessex?”  

Immediately everyone knew the true answers to these questions, and knew that all the others knew. Gaps seemed to open in the crowd as people shrank away from Princess Matilda and some others. 

“What should be done?” Everyone knew the answer to that as well, and the answer to the next question, “Who should do it?

“Seize them, and fetch me an axe,” commanded the King. While waiting, he placed the sword upright on its stand beside his throne.

Princess Matilda had not died well. Wriggling and wailing, screaming out that she really was loyal to Wessex, which everyone knew to be a lie, and that she would be loyal in future, which everyone knew to be another lie, she had been forced to her knees and bent over a bench. With a heavy heart the King had performed his duty and dealt the heavy blow which ended his aunt’s life and her treachery. Most of the others died with more dignity. 

In the case of Price John there was less certainty. Clearly he had been less than loyal to the King, but he had served Wessex to the best of his understanding. It was not clear how the death of his mother would affect him and how he would behave in future. The decision was left to the judgment of the King. John acknowledged his fault and submitted to that judgment without requesting mercy. Grim faced, the King beckoned him forward and he knelt in the gore and put his head on the bench. Was it better to be safe than sorry? Slowly, the King laid the edge of the axe across John’s neck and raised it, held it aloft and lowered it to his side. “Get up,” he said. “Wessex still has need of you.”


 Afterwards there were hard years. No one could still the tempests or feed all of the hungry. Greater sensitivity to nature, prompted by inner sources, may have helped mitigate some of the harshness. Greater honesty of administration and patriotic fellow feeling prompting effort and sharing certainly helped. The spirit of Wessex, if not the bodies of its inhabitants was greatly strengthened. In the presence of the King and his sword and the Wyvern standard and fire, all knew themselves to be united and to be of Wessex. No falsehood could pass for truth in the presence of the sword of truth. Wyvern shrines became widespread and it was invoked at the opening of all public business, as well as privately by people who sought guidance and desired some inner contact or some means to serve their Land, King and people.

There were some who, even in the presence of the King, the Sword and the Wyvern, still could not perceive or accept that there was anything beyond material appearances. Most of the scoffers had learned the error of their ways, but the spiritual defectives were sub-human monsters that could not be permitted to pollute and pervert Wessex by their continued existence, so they had had to be slaughtered. Even plants and animals had their own connections to the Otherworld, and did not deny their natures. Humans who fell below that level were an abomination.

Some years passed in arduous activity before the King noticed that something had happened. Wessex, although it continued to experience difficulties, displayed now a strong sense of identity. Its people were loyal to each other, to him and to the Land. This was not the case in their neighbour Mercia. There similarly harsh conditions prevailed but the people had not grown stronger in battling them. They battled each other, worsened their situation and had almost lost their sense of identity and awareness of their Land. Refugees were unwelcome because there was nothing for them and they had no connection to the inner Wessex.  Some of the communities and landowners bordering Wessex began to plead for protection and annexation. This worried the King for he had no desire for war with Mercia, nor to annex any of it. Rather than subvert and destroy their identity and absorb the people and territory into Wessex, he thought it would be better to reinforce the identity of Mercia and strengthen the people’s connection with their Land, as he had done for Wessex; and to seek some greater identity within the Land in which both Mercia and Wessex could participate without losing their own identities and inner connections. He remembered what the Wyvern had told him about love and loyalty, and thought it was time to begin the Quest of the Cup, but that is another tale. 

Already the tales of True King Richard and his seer-sword are spreading, and will join the legends of Good King Harold. The crops still will not grow to please him, but there will be no more treason in his days, for Wessex is united. ‘What should they know of ‘Wessex’, who only Wessex know?’ ironically misquoted one who had delved into ancient poetry, but now they know. The inner or Otherworld and the outer have grown closer. Stranger chimaeras than the Wyvern have been perceived by the sensitive, and the King’s Horsemen have trodden regular paths between the worlds. 

This has been the tale of a sword. Me. My name is Richard Wessex and this is the story of how I made a King and the King made me; for the True King and the Land are One.

For the true story of Good King Harold and his Iron Wyrm and the crops of his time see:The Sovereignty of Wessex
The White Horse of Uffington and Dragon Hill: