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The Fisher King
Hey SL In one of the threads on teh
Greek goddesses, we touched on the notion of the Fisher King.
Now, to me there are two (distinct?)
meanings to this term - the first being an actual priesthood/kingship
that is known to history to have occurred in the area of Mesopatamia-ish!
I'd have to check where exactly from the sources I read about
them - but it is related to the sacred serpent/crocodile &
Dragon cults of the Middle East. Somewhere in the back of my
mind there is a link with Zorroastianism (though I think the
latter was later i.e. Zoroastrianism was an inheritor of the
tradition if there is a link) and if memory serves it was also
a cult of the Scythians and it could either be through Zoroastrianism
the Scythians or through the Phoenicians that it came to Christianity:
the bishops miter is very closely related to the headdress the
Fisher Kings I speak of used to wear.
The second meaning is the Fisher
King associated with western European Pagan mythos and worship.
The Fisher King is in the King Arthur mythos of north-western
post-Crusades Europe. To me the Fisher King is the Summer God
of Celtic mythos - who marries the Goddess as the Maiden/Rose
Queen/Queen of the May at Beltane and is slain as part of the
Wild Boar Hunt at Samhain when the Land becomes baron as the
goddess takes her place in the Underworld with the Winter God
or Horned God.
Cinn mentioned a story to me re the
Fisher King - about how if the Fisher King become sick the land
becomes sick - or was it the other way around - but whatever,
he must die if the land becomes sick and the crops fail etc.
Now I am presuming this is a version of the mythical Fisher
King: the Celtic Summer God or the King Arthur type stories
- ie that it was not a historical Fisher King - but I have never
heard this aspect before - in other version of the mythical
King of Summer the slaying was automatic at the end of Summer
- it wasn't dependent on an event such as a failed harvest -
so this element has me a little stumped!
From some stuff I read around the
earliest history of Greece in looking at Wynsong's Athena thread
to see if I could trace it back to which branch of the Indo-Europeans
the Greeks came from, it appears that there is an inference
that human sacrifices were plausible in that part of the world
in pre-history and I know in a dramatization of the eruption
of Thera (the volcano on the (what remains of) the Greek island
that we now call Santorini) that is widely believed to have
brought an end to the Minoan Culture of Crete, that the populace
were calling for the blood of the chief-priest because he had
failed to appease the god/goddess of the mountain (Thera). Ok,
so that was a dramatization and there will be some poetic license
- but given the rest of the drama was reasonably historically
accurate from what I know of that event, that notion of human
sacrifice to appease the gods/goddesses in the eastern Mediterranean
Jesus is a version of the Fisher
King - and he receives a wound in his side (from the Centurion's
spear). From Chassidus/Kabbalah that wound signifies a wound
either to the Kidney or the Liver (cant remember exactly
which as I type this now) and most likely the kidneys as there
are two of them signifying
the two columns of the Kabbalist Tree (the kidneys are known
as the "Kidneys Which Counsel" in the Chassidus/Kabbalah
system I have looked at and are said to implore Action as we
are at the Action level of the Kabbalist Tree) that roughly
relates to whether we choose to follow the Divine willingly
(right kidney and right hand column of the Kabbalist Tree which
is Kindness/Love) or whether we must be cajoled to follow (left
kidney and left column of the Kabbalist Tree which is Judgement/Fear):
and the wound (to the left) would represent something along
the lines of an end to following out of fear i.e. that that
aspect is fatally wounded or that tendency has brought about
the death: because until that aspect dies, the foundation for
the New Jerusalem cannot be laid on the central column of the
Tree which is Mercy/Beauty: again that notion that the King
(and also High Priest) must die for the Land/Tribe to be saved.
Also a fear based reaction to something directly affecting the
Land/Tribe which to me is implied if the Fisher King is slain
due to a failed harvest that isn't an aspect of the turn of
the year Samhain/Beltane Wild Hunts of the Celtic mythos.
So I was wondering if anyone had
come across a god/King-type figure in the traditions they follow
and this notion of him being slain if the crops fail?
DH~ I'll have to do some major
digging, my books are packed away and I don't have a handy reference
but will see what I can come up with relative to this. Hopefully
someone will have something sooner. I'll be back.
***I'm back. LOL I did a quick search
online and found this to share for now. May have more later
for you if I can find my resource notes and the books that addressed
this, DH, but for now I hope it helps to at least start to define
things for you.
The Old King: A common feature of
kingship in primitive societies is the intimate association
of the king with the land. The king is often regarded as the
temporary incarnation of a god whose youth, vigor and virility
are essential to the kingdom.
The kings life or spirit
is so sympathetically bound up with the prosperity for the whole
country, that if he fell ill or grew senile the cattle would
sicken or cease to multiply, the crops would rot in the fields,
men would perish of widespread disease.
(J.G. Fraser, The Golden Bough.)
Therefore, in such societies, the
king is only allowed to rule for a fixed term, after which he
is killed (usually by his successor) and replaced. In the most
extreme cases, the term is one year, so that the death of the
old king coincides with the passing of the old year. J.G. Fraser
notes that such annual regicide seems to have been common in
Western Asia and particularly in Phyrgia, where the king-priest
was slain in the character of Attis, a god of vegetation.
So what does this have to do with
Wagners drama? In the three decades between the composers
discovery of Wolframs Parzival and the completion of his
own poem, Wagner rejected Wolframs account and selected
elements from the Grail literature. One such element is that
of an old king, a character who appears in several of the Grail
In Chretiens story, he is the
father of the Grail king, in Wolframs account, his grandfather.
In Wagners poem, the old king
Titurel lies in a tomb and is kept alive by the sight of the
It may be that Chretien was the first
author to locate two kings in the Grail castle, perhaps as the
result of merging two earlier stories; in any case, the double-king
element was adopted both by Wolfram and by Wagner.
In a later form of the story, developed
in The Quest of the Holy Grail, there are three kings; all of
them are wounded. The life of one, Mordrains, has been preternaturally
prolonged and his youth is restored by the completion of the
The Maimed King: Jessie Weston distinguished
between the Maimed King and the Fisher King, in her analysis
of the Grail legend and its possible ritual origin:
Students of the Grail cycle
will hardly need to be reminded that the identity of the Maimed
King is a hopeless puzzle. He may be the Fisher King, or the
Fisher Kings father, or have no connection with either,
as in the Evalach-Mordrains story. He may have been wounded
in battle, or accidentally, or willfully, or by supernatural
means, as the punishment of too close an approach to the spiritual
Probably the characters of the Maimed King and
the Fisher King were originally distinct, the Maimed king representing,
as we have suggested, the god, in whose honor the rites were
performed; the Fisher King, who, whether maimed or not, invariably
acts as host, representing the Priest.
(J.L. Weston, The Grail and Rites of Adonis.)
In the earliest Gawain form of the
Grail romances, according to Weston, the lord of the Grail castle
was neither old nor infirm, but dead. It as an account of the
death of this knight that misfortune had fallen upon the land.
In all of the Perceval versions, however, it was the king who
had been wounded (or, in the case of the Didot Perceval only,
grown old) and this was the cause of the wasting of the land.
To achieve the quest and revive the land, either the king had
to be healed, or restored to youth and vigor, or a young and
vigorous successor had to undertake the burden of kingship.
Wagner seems to have distilled the
essence of the story. He tells us that he rejected Wolframs
account and recognized that, even in Chretiens account,
the question was an unnecessary complication. I his Parsifal,
the collapse of the Grail community is a result of Anfortas
wound, which is both physical and spiritual. In place of asking
a question, the destined successor has to fulfill a quest through
which the symbols of cup and lance are reunited, and the Maimed
King is both healed and succeeded.
The Fisher King:
In Robert de Borons Joseph dArimathie, the brother
of Joseph is called Bron. When the company of the Grail are
starving, Bron is told to catch a fish, which feeds them in
a ritual meal. After this, Bron is known as the Rich Fisher.
Joseph, the original Winner of the Grail, and his brother Bron
are another example of the double-king element found In later
versions of the story. The fisherman element is found in all
of the Perceval versions. In Chretiens Perceval, for example,
the hero meets the Grail king when he is fishing from a boat.
It may be significant that the Grail castle is always located
close to water (and in at least two cases, on an island). The
fish is a traditional fertility symbol, perhaps as a result
of its fecundity, a characteristic that it shares with another
Grail symbol, the dove.
Percival story that I know, the Fisher King dies shortly after
he is healed by the Grail... The King is wounded in the area
of the upper thigh, connected to the first chakra...and so the
land is wounded. Fishing is the only place he finds peace, thus
the name the Fisher King. He directs Percival (who I understood
was the French version of Gawain) to the Grail Castle, where
following the instructions of his mother, over his teacher,
Percival fails to ask the question that would allow the King
to drink from the Grail and be healed...although everyone else
can drink from it.
It takes 40 years
for Percival to find the castle again, during which time he
quests for Arthur's Round Table, and in so doing finds that
his good deeds cause harm. He has to face the harm he has done,
before he can get into the Grail Castle (or maybe it is when
he is again in front of the King)...memory sucks. He finally
overcomes his mother's charge to never ask questions...and he
asks what he was taught to ask.
The land is healed
and the King dies the next day. Can't remember which source
it was that that summary came from, but it may have been Robert
Cinn, Thanks for your input!
I must admit, that I put this thread up last night as a reminder
- as I had meant to put it up last week, but forgot and then
remembered when I was looking at something related last night
- so didnt do any routing around before I did, which I
Reading your post as a whole the
thing that comes forward to me is that notion of the two kings
- the Old King and the Fisher King and the cyclic nature of
As I said in my opening post this
brings to mind the Celtic Year - the Winter God could be described
as the Old King for various reasons: firstly he is the first
god of the Celtic Year - as the Celtic Year starts at Samhain,
which marks the change from Summer to Winter - thus the Celtic
Year starts in the darkness of Winter - just as human life starts
in the darkness of the womb and plant-life starts in the darkness
of the earth.
Secondly in most tellings of the
Celtic myths, the winter god never actually dies (as the summer
god does) in the Wild Hunt: he is simply loses his antlers (which,
acting as spiritual antennae give him the power to sustain the
Life of the Tribe in Winter when the sun (the goddess) is at
its least powerful) and is chased into the forests at Beltane
(forests represent the wilderness - wild untamed places apart
from the tribe: so the winter god being chased into the forests
speaks of his separateness from the Tribe in summer).
Yes, in some versions of the Myths
the winter god does die: but the overall bent of the myths is
that he lives on and is merely denied his place of power
i.e. the Underworld - just as one aspect of the goddess in the
form of the Black Sow of the Hag roams the baron earth in Winter
(in some myths searching for her son (and future mate) the summer
god), so the winter god must roam the green spaces of the forests
in Summer apart from the Tribe and the Goddess: but does not
die. The Summer God on the other hand is slain every Samhain
in the Wild Hunt: an event that is critical for the Land: because
if he does not die he cannot be born again at the Winter Solstice
and in doing so fulfill the
promise of the Returning Light of midwinter that helps sustain
the Tribe through Winter.
Having been reborn, he must be hidden
away so that he is not slain again by the jealous Winter God:
making his appearance as a youth at Imbolc before reaching the
maturity at Beltane and chasing the Winter God into the Forrest
at which point the Summer God enjoins with the Goddess as the
Flower Maiden, marries her and through their Union creates the
In that case the Winter God appears
be the Old King and the Fisher King appears to be the Summer
God/Percival that Wynsong speaks of (who I am sure is later
a different Arthurian character - Gawain - which in the Welsh
is Gwalchmai - the "Hawk of May": the reference to
May again speaks to me of Beltane and the Summer God) which
seems to confirm my theory - but I am still not convinced!
Wynsong, Thanks for your post! The
principal thing I took from it was the notion of the Fish itself
and was reminded that in some of the sources I read, there was
an added element that the fish-shape is created from the central
portion of the intersection of two circles i.e the Vesica Piscis
- which to me speaks of the Pythagorean cults which probably
influenced early Christianity given the early Gospels were in
Greek. In the sources I read, it was stated that the cults of
the Sacred Serpent/Crocodile, Dragon and Fish were manifestation
of the same cult dependent on where the cult was based - desert
was Serpent, marsh/swamp (as in the Nile Delta) was Crocodile
and in ocean-edge dwellers it was the Fish. But the Serpent
speaks to me of male energy, whereas the Vesica Pisces, female:
so that notions sounds a bit "off": unless there is
an analogy of Union in there somewhere.
That notion that the King finds peace
is when fishing brings in an interesting aspect....perhaps that
is a reference to the Waters of Life or water as west on the
Medicine Wheel- introspection - looking Within? Perhaps that
notion of Innerness is why the Grail Castle is by water: also
brings in that notion of Avalon and the Lady of the Lake.
The notion of the land and first
chakra is interesting - I can see that association yes - and
that makes sense to me intellectually - though I'd have to think
about that/contemplate it to understand it in my heart: so for
now I'll hold that idea.
This section really got my thinking:
where following the instructions
of his mother, over his teacher, Percival fails to ask the question
that would allow the King to drink from the Grail and be healed...although
everyone else can drink from it. It takes 40 years for Percival
to find the castle again, during which time he quests for Arthur's
Round Table, and in so doing finds that his good deeds cause
harm. He has to face the harm he has done, before he can get
into the Grail Castle (or maybe it is when he is again in front
of the King)...memory sucks. He finally overcomes his mother's
charge to never ask questions...and he asks what he was taught
....as it ties in with something
else - that I think is related and that I saw in some reading
I did around your Athena thread - the notion of the Destructive
Feminine: which appear to relate how the feminine requires us
to look within, and how, quite often, in that introspection
we must release aspects of
self that need to die - which brings us back to the notions
spoken of at Samhain in the Celtic mythos - allowing the old
to die to make way for the new - the old year, old habits, old
attitudes, old projects - anything that was not completed in
the old year at Samhain: and how the Law of Unintended Consequence
can come into play when we seek to do good. By what you are
saying the Fisher King is implicated in that story - though
quite how I am not sure.
That sequence also bring in questions
I have about Morgan in the King Arthur mythos that I have a
nagging feeling are relevant. I have to admit though, that other
than that notion of introspection, I don't understand why obeying
his mother's orders would hinder Gawain/Percival - perhaps his
mother is the Hag aspect of the Goddess in her Winter aspect
when she is unable to bring forward Life?
Once again, thanks to you both for
mother lost her first three sons and her husband to Arthur's
concept of a Just society. They became knights, and were killed.
She took Percival into the woods, to keep him safe. He, on his
wanderings, met and was enamored with Knights of Arthur's Round
Table, and came home all excited wanting to become a Knight
too...or to become like the men he saw as heroes. His mother's
attempts to keep him home and in a simple life failed, and when
she realized that he would follow in their footsteps, she spun
him a homespun garment, and asked that he always wear it against
his skin...that he always respect women, and that he not ask
any questions. Then he left.
He became a knight
in a roundabout way, accidently killing the Red Knight to become
a knight. When he returned, he found that she had died shortly
after his leaving, of a broken heart. The only other female
in the story, of significance was Bianca...the White Lady, who
he slept with but did not have carnal relations with. She became
the archetype of "The Perfect Woman".
There is a lot
I don't remember about how I learned the story...But I remember
those details, as they played a significant role in my own story.
I am the mother of four sons. I have been demonized as an over
protective mother. We can bring the Iron John myth in here,
in which only the first part of the story was absorbed as a
teaching...The part where you have to steal from the mother
to become a man. And I cannot compete with the archetypal "Perfect
Woman". The untouchable White Lady. Sorry my memory is
so spotty. I do also remember that there were several different
possible endings to the story. In some Percival doesn't actually
get back into the Grail Castle and cannot ask the question.
In others he does, and the Fisher King is healed, the land is
healed, and the Fisher King then dies the next day. And of course,
we might take a biblical reference to the time frames. What
does the next day actually mean in terms of our time experience.
And the 40 years carries the number 40 like Noah's tale of 40
days and 40 (k)nights, or the wandering through the wilderness/desert
of Jesus. Nailing down the veracity of a story, or the links
to other things like numerology are not my strong suit, but
I know they are yours. I'm more of a read a story and see where
it lives in me kind of girl, thus my remembering the part of
the mother and the White Lady in the Percival myth, when they
really make up such a small part of the story.
was a hag in the story...She is the one who calls Percival to
task for being blindly unconscious of the damage he caused doing
all his good deeds over the 40 years of questing. He only ever
killed one person, and that was the Red Knight, but everyone
he bested (and he always bested those he fought) he sent to
serve at Arthur's Table. The hag was the wife of one of those
men, who left his family to join the vision of the Just society...The
hag made Percival see how much damage the zealous following
of his charge had wrecked on the families of those he encountered.
How many men they had killed leaving their families without
a provider or protector. The hag/crone in the story was there
at the end, and asked those blinded by their own good deeds,
to look and see the shadow. There is more...but for now...that
is all that is coming to mind as relevant.
Wynsong, Thanks again -
you've given me a lot to go rummaging for - I have a few compendiums
of British Lore that has King Arthur stuff in it that I can
rummage through now I think about it. Your comments about the
Just Society rings true with the Law of Unintended Consequence
aspects of the King Arthur legends that, contrary to popular
belief, I see the stories relating: In Britain King Arthur is
seen as a hero-figure, but I know that that fatally-flawed aspect
is there: which if I remember rightly is why he dies at the
end of the story i.e. there is an element of Macbeth
character in the King Arthur stories in the final analysis -
though the storylines and characters are very different.
Although in our modern interpretation
of the Black Sow or Hag of the Celtic legends, the Sow or Hag
is feared, she would not have been in Celtic Times - the Black
Sow or Hag would have been perceived as Crone Wisdom - both
in the form of Sow/Boar giving themselves as food - but also
in terms of the older members of the Tribe passing on the teachings
and skills of how to store food over winter and what foods could
still be gathered - thus keeping the Tribe alive during the
baron Winter months.
Ill have a look at some of
the other points you raise and see if I can turn up anything
in the compendiums.
Glad I could add that much
Wolfie, hope you get it sorted. I may be back to this but right
now have a ton of work to get through.
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