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As an attribute, it pertains to several mythic characters including Hecate . It is symbolic of mystery or enigma, or of a task to be performed, and the means of carrying it out. It sometimes refers to the threshold of the unconscious .
The key to knowledge corresponds, within the cycle of the year, to the month of June (healing). The conjunction of the symbols of the male dove and the key signifies the spirit opening the gates of heaven . The emblem formed by two keys, sometimes placed over a heart, relates to Janus . In legend and folklore, three keys are often used to symbolize a like number of secret chambers full of precious objects They are symbolic representations of initiation and knowledge
The first key, of silver, concerns what can be revealed by psycho logical understanding; the second is made of gold, and pertains to philosophical wisdom; the third and last, of diamond, confers the power to act . The finding of a key signifies the stage prior to the actual discovery of the treasure, found only after great difficulties. Clearly there is a morphological relationship between the key and the Nem Ankh sign (or 'Eternal Life')-the anserated cross of the Egyptians; their gods are sometimes shown holding this cross by the top as if it were a key, especially in ceremonies concerning the dead. But it should perhaps be pointed out that, in this case, it is the keys that derive from the anserated cross, the archetype of the, key of Eternal Life that opens up the gates of death on to immortality.
In the broadest and most abstract sense, the king symbolizes universal and archetypal Man. As such, according to animistic and astrobiological ways of thought widespread from India to Ireland, he possesses magic and supernatural powers. He also expresses the ruling or governing principle, supreme consciousness, and the virtues of sound judgement and self-control .
At the same time, a coronation is equivalent to achievement, victory and consum mation . Hence any man may properly be called a king when he achieves the culminating point in the unfolding of his individual life. Deriving from, and equated with the king-symbolism are the symbols for gold, the sun and Jupiter. These symbols imply in essence the idea that the king is Man transposed to the solar plane, to the ideal or 'golden' situation that is, 'saved' and made eternal.
The idea of immortality was passed from god to monarch, and only later was it vouchsafed to the hero and later still to ordinary mortals in so far as they merited the 'crown' of success, having overcome certain obstacles (usually of a moral order). The king, quite apart from all this, may also symbolize the 'royalty' or grandeur of Man. In this case, he may be subjected to a period of unfavourable or painful circumstances; when this is so, the particular symbol becomes that of the 'sick king' (like Amfortas in Parsifal), or of the 'sea-king' (signifying the negative aspect of humanity) . Love also plays a highly important part in the symbolism of royalty,
since love is held to be one of the most obvious of culminating points in the life of Man. This is why the bride and bridegroom in the Greek marriage-ceremony wear crowns made of some precious metal. The king and queen together comprise the perfect image of the zeros gamos, of the union of heaven and earth, sun and moon, gold and silver, sulphur and mercury, and according to Jung they also signify the spiritual 'conjunction' that takes place when the
process of individuation is complete, with the harmonious union of the unconscious and consciousness.
The title of king is bestowed upon the most outstanding specimen in every species or type: so, the lion is the king of beasts, as is the eagle of birds or gold among the metals . To come back to the symbolism of the 'sick king', he like such afflicted heroes as Philoctetes signifies, on the one hand, the punishment which pursues sin as the shadow follows the body
(given the existence of the light of consciousness), and, on the other, sterility of spirit. A particularly significant instance of the symbolic process is implied by the king's projecting his spiritual state on to nature around him, as happens with Amfortas in Parsifal, in the Waste Land of Eliot, and, to some extent, the Fall of the House of Usher by Poe. As for the 'sea-king', he is symbolic of the ocean (another version of Neptune) and therefore personifies the deeps of the unconscious in their regressive and evil form as opposed to the waters of the 'Upper Ocean' (the clouds, rain or fresh water) which are fecund .
The 'aged king' such as Dhritarashtra, the aged monarch of Vedic epics, or king Lear, or all those aged kings of legends and folktales is symbolic of the world-memory, or the collective unconscious in its widest and most all-embracing sense. The king often exhibits, in concentrated form, the characteristics of the father and the hero, and there is a touch of the Messianic about him; by inversion of the temporal order of things, what is past becomes 'what is to pass' and the dead king is supposed by his subjects to be living a strange existence as a ghost, later to return to his country when it is in great danger. This legend tends to accrue to the names of historical monarchs who have fallen in strange or unhappy circumstances, as in the case of the Portuguese dom Sebastian or that of don Rodrigo, the last of the Gothic kings. The supreme example is the mythic king Arthur, called by Malory Arthurus, rex quondam, revue futures .
A symbol which is the inversion of sword-symbolism. It is associated with vengeance and death, but also with sacrifice (8). The short blade of the knife represents, by analogy, the primacy of the instinctive forces in the man wielding it, whereas the long blade of the sword illustrates the spiritual height of the swordsman.
A symbol which confirms what we have suggested concerning the steed. He is the master, the logos, the spirit which prevails over the mount (that is, over matter). But this is possible only after a lengthy period of apprenticeship, which may be seen, historically speaking, as a real attempt to create in the knight a human type superior to all others. As a consequence, the education of the knight was directed in part to strengthening him physically, but in particular to developing his soul and spirit, his affections (that is, his morals) and his mind (that is, his reason) in order to prepare him adequately for the task of directing and controlling the real world, so that he might take his proper place in the hierarchies of the universe (that is, in the feudal hierarchy, ordered after the celestial pattern, ranging from the baron up to the king). we also find mounted monks, priests and laymen skilfully controlling their steed, thereby demonstrating their allegiance to the spiritual (or symbolic) order of knighthood in deliberate competition with the historico-social order of knights.
This is why in the bas-reliefs on the capitals in the cloister at Silos, knights are shown bestriding goats. Now, goats are symbolic of superiority, because of their association with high peaks, and Rabanus Maurus points out that knights mounted on goats must therefore be interpreted as saints. of course, the purpose of the assimilation of saint with knight is to magnify the symbolic worth of the knight, as in the case of St. Ignatius Loyola. More profound examples of such assimilation are to be seen in that of the king and knight (King Arthur), or the king, knight and saint (St. Ferdinand III of Spain or St. Louis IX of France). This knight-symbolism is common in all symbolic traditions. Ananda Coomaraswamy observes that 'the "horse" is a symbol of the bodily vehicle, and the "rider" is the Spirit: when the latter has come to the end of its incarnations, the saddle is unoccupied, and the vehicle necessarily dies.
' By taking account of certain other orders of things analogous with chivalry, including (particularly) alchemy (which was in fact a mediaeval technique of spiritualization) and also certain aspects of colour-symbolism, we have been able to arrive at a system of analogies which we believe to be very helpful in explaining some of the more recondite aspects of the symbolism of knighthood. Mediaeval tales and legends often refer to a green, white or red knight, but most frequently of all to a black knight. Should we regard this as merely a matter of aesthetic appreciation of the colour in a literal and decorative sense? Or does the choice of colour proceed necessarily from a highly significant cause?
The latter, we think. In alchemy, the rising scale of colours (the progressive, evolutive scale) is: black, white, red (corresponding tQ prime matter, mercury, sulphur), with gold representing the hypothetical, final stage. Conversely, it can be said that the descending scale would be from blue to green, that is, descending from heaven to earth. These two colours stand for the celestial, and the natural or terrestrial factors. Furthermore, black is associated with sin, penitence, the withdrawal of the recluse, the hidden, rebirth in seclusion, and sorrow; white with innocence (natural as well as that regained through expiation), illumination, openheartedness, gladness; and red with passion (moral or material love or pain), blood, wounds, sublimation and ecstasy.
We may therefore surmise that the Green Knight is the pre-knight, the squire, the apprentice sworn to knighthood; the Black Knight stands for him who undergoes the tribulations of sin, expiation and obscurity in order to attain to immortality by way of earthly glory and heavenly beatitude; the White Knight (Sir Galahad) is the natural conqueror, the 'chosen one' of the Evangelists, or the 'illuminated one' reemerging from a period of nigredo; the Red Knight is the knight sublimated by every possible trial, bloodied from every possible sacrifice, supremely virile, the conqueror of all that is base, who, having completed his life's work, is fully deserving of gold in its ultimate transmutation glorification. Knighthood should be seen, then, as a superior kind of pedagogy helping to bring about the
Knight Errant, after an early 16th-century engraving.
transmutation of natural man (steedless) into spiritual man. An important part was played in this symbolic tradition by prototypes such as the famous, mythical knights of the court of King Artllur or patron saints such as St. George, Santiago of Compostela, or the archangel Michael.
The practical means of achieving the knight's ultimate goal consisted of corporeal exertions, which were, in effect, not merely physical or material since the knight practised wxth all kinds of arms, and these arms stood for symbolic potentialities; these practical exertions, then, led eventually to the inversion of the world of desire through the ascetic denial of physical pleasure the
very essence of knighthood and the almost mystic cult of the beloved. The knight's relative shortcomings while carrying out his sworn duties provide the explanation of the colour black which we have just examined. Nevertheless, other explanations have also been advanced, as for example that the knight is the 'guardian of the treasure', supplanting the monster he has conquered (the serpent or dragon).
Clearly this symbolism is not opposed to that which we have proposed, rather does it support it by emphasizing the essential mission of the knight's service. Another interesting aspect of knight symbolism though, in a way, a negative one can be seen in the
use of the epithets 'wandering' and 'errant' in mediaeval tales, legends and folklore. At times, the adjective has a precise meaning, at other times it is much more imprecise. In every case, the wandering (or 'errantry') of the knight implies an intermediate position between the 'saved' knight and the accursed hunter, with the difference that the knight errant, so far from being caught up in the pursuit of his desires, is of course striving to master them and this is what
we had in mind when we observed that this aspect 'in a way, is a negative one'. Needless to say, this symbolism of one who takes the dark and lonely path of expiation, verifies our observation that the Black Knight is a symbol of withdrawal, penitence and sacrifice.
A complex symbol embracing several important meanings all of which are related to the central idea of a tightly closed link. It implies also the symbolism of the spiral and the sigmoid line The sign for infinity the horizontal figure 8 as well as the number 8 itself, are at once interlacing and also knotted, and this emphasizes the relationship of the knot with the idea of infinity or, rather, with the manifestation of the infinite. It is comparable with the net, the loop and the plait, in that it expresses the concept of binding and fettering a concept which is generally expressive of an unchanging psychic situation, however unaware of his predicament the individual may be: for example, that of the unliberated man who is 'tied down' by the Uranian god. This is why the Flamen Dialis of the ancient Romans could not wear knots in his habits; and this is also true of the Moslems on their pilgrimages to Mecca .
These magic associations of binding, which form part of the symbolism of the knot, are sometimes given literal expression in magical practices, such as those of fishermen in the Shetland Islands who still believe that they can control the winds by the magic use of knots . A knotted cord forms a kind of closed ring, or a circumference, and hence it possesses the general significance of an enclosure, and of protection. The 'slip-knot' is a determinative sign in the Egyptian language, entering into the composition of words such as calumny, oaths, or a journey. The meaning must have originated in the idea of keeping in touch with someone who is far away, and there is unquestionably some connexion with the enigma of the Hanged Man in the Tarot pack . The 'endless knot' is one of the eight Emblems of Good Luck of Chinese Buddhism, representing longevity ; the symbolism here has taken one aspect of the concept of the knot that of pure connexion and applied it to the biological and phenomenal planes.
Finally, the famous 'Gordian knot' cut by Alexander the Great, by virtue of his determination and his sword, is a long-standing symbol of the labyrinth, arising out of the chaotic and inextricable tangle of the cords with which it was tied. To undo the knot was equivalent to finding the 'Centre' which forms such an important part of all mystic thought. And to cut the knot was to transfer the pure idea of achievement and victory to the plane of war and of existence.