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St. George the Chevalier by Anna Kingsford

 

During the last few years a growing interest in the subject of religious metaphysic has shown itself in certain strata of our intellectual world. This interest has taken many forms, and attached itself to many developments, some of which have been chiefly distinguished for


* Although, strictly, neither a "dream" nor a "dream-story," this paper is included by the express wish of its writer, the interpretations contained in it being largely the product of instructions received by her in sleep.—Ed.

eccentricity, and have attracted attention rather by this quality than by their intrinsic value as solid contributions to thought. Phrases, symbols, and expositions of theosophical doctrine gathered from sources unfamiliar to the ordinary Western mind, and requiring for their comprehension the study of a foreign tongue and of a strange and intricate psychology, task too much the intellect of a seeker trained in the Christian faith and seriously bent on the profitable study of its mysteries. Fain would he learn what are these mysteries without recourse to a foreign interpreter. His own Church, his own creed, he thinks, should teach him all that he seeks to know, and he cares not to set aside and reject names and symbols hallowed by the use of ages among his people, in favour of others new to his ear and tongue. If a revival of religious metaphysic is imminent among us, let it then be directed along the old channels worn deep by the prayers and aspirations of our fathers. Let us hear what the tradition of our faith has to unfold to us of arcane secrets, and to what mystic heights of transcendental thought the paths trodden by Christian saints can lead us. For the legends and visions of the saints are full of precious testimonies to the esoteric origin and nature of Catholic dogma; and the older and more venerable the tradition, the more fundamental and spiritual its character. Chiefest for us, and most important among such sacred legends, is that of ST. GEORGE the Champion, not only because he is for English folk pre-eminent among the saintly throng celebrated by our Church as each November-tide comes round, but also because his story is thoroughly typical of the class of esoteric tradition in which Catholic truth and faith crystallised themselves in simpler and purer-hearted times than these. Students of religious mystic thought can scarce do better than turn to such a tale by way of proem to more elaborate research. There, in softened outlines and graceful language, they will find an exposition of the whole argument of spiritual metaphysics, and a complete vindication of the method of theosophy. At the outset of a new line of inquiry the mind is usually more quickened to interest by parable than by dissertation. All great religious teachers have recognised this fact, and have directed their instructions accordingly. Nor can those who care to pursue a systematic study of Christian mysticism afford to despise these poetic embodiments.

The highest form of thought is, after all, imaginative. Man ends, as he begins, with images. Truth in itself is unutterable. The loftiest metaphysic is as purely symbolic as the popular legend.

The Catholic tale of St. George, our national patron and champion, was once of worldwide renown. But since our youth have taken to reading Mill and Huxley, Spencer and Darwin, in place of the old books wherein their ancestors took delight, the romances of the Paladins and the knights-errant of Christian chivalry lie somewhat rusty in the memories of the present generation. I propose, then, first to recite the legend of the great St. George and his famous conquest, and next to offer an interpretation of the story after the esoteric manner.

According to Catholic legend, St. George was born in Cappadocia, and early in the fourth century came to Lybia in quest of chivalrous adventure. For this great saint was the noblest and bravest knight-errant the ranks of chivalry have ever known, and the fame of his prowess in arms vied with, the glory of his virtue, and made his name a terror to all evil-doers the wide world over.

In Lybia there was, in those days, a city called Silena, near whose walls lay a great lake, inhabited by a monstrous and fearsome dragon. Many a redoubted knight had fallen in conflict with this terrible beast; none had obtained the least advantage over it; and now for a long time it had laid waste and ravaged all the country round, no man daring to attack or hinder it. Every day for many a long year past the miserable inhabitants of Silena had delivered up to the dragon a certain number of sheep or kine from their herds, so that at least the monster might be appeased without the sacrifice of human life. At last all the flocks and the kine were devoured, and the townspeople found themselves reduced to a terrible strait. The dragon besieged the walls of the city, and infected all the air with his poisonous breath, so that many persons died, as though smitten by a pestilence. Then, in order to save the people, lots were cast among all those who had children, and he to whom the die fell was forced to give a son or daughter to the monster. This terrible state of things had already continued for some time, when one day the fatal lot fell to the king, none being exempted from the tax.

Now the king had an only child, a fair and virgin daughter. To save her from so horrible a doom he offered to any man who would redeem the tax, his crown, his kingdom, and all his wealth. But the people would hear of no exchange. They demanded that the king should bear the stroke of fate in common with the meanest citizen. Then the king asked for a reprieve of eight days to lament his child and prepare her for her death. Meanwhile the dragon, infuriated at the unusual delay, hung continually about the city gates, expecting his victim, and poisoned all the sentinels and men-at-arms who guarded the walls. Wherefore the people sent messengers to the king and reproached him with his faint-heartedness. "Why," said they, "do you suffer your subjects to die for your daughter's sake? Why doom us to perish daily by the poisonous breath of the dragon?"

Then the king, perceiving that he could put off the evil hour no longer, clad his daughter in royal apparel, embraced her tenderly, and said, "Alas! dear child, I thought to see my race perpetuated in thine heirs; I hoped to have welcomed princes to thy nuptials; but now thou must perish in the flower of thy youth, a sacrifice to this accursed monster! Why did not the Gods decree my death before I brought thee into the world?"

When the princess heard these sorrowful words she fell at her father's feet, and, with tears, besought his blessing. Weeping, he gave it, and folded her a last time in his arms. Then, followed by her afflicted women and a great concourse of people, she was led like a lamb to the gates of the city. Here she parted from her companions, the drawbridge was lowered across the deep moat, and alone she passed forth and went towards the lake to meet her destroyer.

Now it chanced that just then St. George, in his shining armour, came riding by, and, seeing a fair damsel alone and in tears, he sprang from his horse, and hastened to offer her his knightly service. But she only waved him back, and cried, "Good sir, remount your steed and fly in haste, that you perish not with me!" But to this the Saint responded, "Tell me first why thou art here with such sad mien, and why this crowd of people on the city walls gaze after us so fearfully." And the Princess answered him, "Thou hast, I see, a great and noble heart; but make the more haste to be gone therefore. It is not meet that one so good should die unworthily."

"I will not go," returned the knight, "until thou tell me what I seek to know."

So she told him, weeping, all the woeful tale; and St George made answer with a brave heart, in a voice that all the townfolk on the walls could hear, "Fear not, fair maid; in the name of Christ I will do battle for thee against this dragon."

Then the Princess loved him, and wrung her hands and cried, "Brave knight, seek not to die with me; enough that I should perish. There is no man living that can stand against this dragon. Thou canst neither aid nor deliver me. Thou canst but share my doom."

As she spoke the words, the waters of the lake divided, and the monster rose from its depths and espied its prey. At that the virgin trembled, and cried again, "Fly! fly! O knight! stay not to see me perish!"

For all answer St George flung himself upon his steed, made the holy sign of the cross, and, commending himself to Christ, lowered his lance and rushed full on the open jaws of the hideous beast. With such force he directed his aim that the dragon was instantly overthrown, and lay, disabled and powerless, at the feet of the saint. Then, with the words of a holy spell, St. George cast a great fear upon the monster, so that it was shorn of all its fury, and durst not lift its body from the dust. Thereupon the blessed knight beckoned to the Princess to approach, and bade her loose her girdle, and, without fear, bind it about the dragon's neck. And when this was done, behold, the beast followed the maid, spellbound, and thus they entered the city.

But the people, when they saw the dragon approaching, fled tumultuously on every side, crying out that they would all surely perish. St. George therefore struck off the monster's head with his sword, and bade them take heart and fear nothing, because the Lord had given him grace over all evil things to deliver the earth from plagues.

So, when the people saw that the dragon was slain, they thronged about St. George, and kissed his hands and his robe; and the king embraced him joyfully, praising his valour and prowess above the fame of all mortal men. And when the saint had preached to them the faith of Christ, the whole city was straightway baptised; and the king thereafter built a noble church to the honour of our Lady and of the brave St. George. And from the foot of the altar flowed forth a marvellous stream, whose waters healed all manner of sickness; so that for many a long year no man died in that city.

Such is the legend of the patron saint of England,—a legend reproduced in Spenser's poem of the "Faery Queen," wherein St. George appears as the Red Cross Knight, and the Princess as Una, the mystical maid, who, after the overthrow of the dragon, becomes the bride of her champion.

Need I recall to any student of classic story the resemblance between this sacred romance and that of the Greek hero Perseus, who rescued the fair Andromeda from the fangs of the sea-monster which would have devoured her? Or whose divine favour it was that directed and shielded the Argive champion; whose winged sandals bore him unharmed across sea and land; whose magic sword and helm armed and defended him?

With all these symbols the name of HERMES is indissolubly connected. His are the Wings of Courage, the Rod of Science, and the Helmet of Secrecy. And his, too, is the Sword of Power, the strong and steadfast Will, by which the elemental forces are overcome and controlled, and the monsters of the abyss bound in obedience,—those spiritual dragons and chimeras that ravage the hopes of humanity and would fain devour the "King's Daughter."

For Hermes—Archangel, Messenger of Heaven, and slayer of Argos the hundred- eyed (type of the stellar powers)—is no other than Thought: Thought which alone exalts man above the beast, and sets him noble tasks to do and precious rewards to win, and lifts him at last to shine evermore with the gods above the starry heights of heaven.

All the heroes are sons of Hermes, for he is the Master and Initiator of spiritual chivalry. The heroes are the knights-errant of Greek legend. Like St. George and his six holy peers; like Arthur's knights; like the Teuton Siegfried, the British Artegal, and many another saintly chevalier "sans peur et sans reproche," the heroes of yet older days—Heracles, Bellerophon, Theseus, Jason, Perseus—roamed the earth under divine guidance, waging ceaseless warfare with tyranny and wrong; rescuing and avenging the oppressed, destroying the agents of hell, and everywhere delivering mankind from the devices of terrorism, thrall, and the power of darkness.

The divine Order of Chivalry is the enemy of ascetic isolation and indifferentism. It is the Order of the Christ who goes about doing good. The Christian knight, mounted on a valiant steed (for the horse is the symbol of Intelligence), and equipped with the panoply of Michael, is the type of the spiritual life,—the life of heroic and active charity.

All the stories about knights and dragons have one common esoteric meaning. The dragon is always Materialism in some form; the fearsome, irrepressible spirit of Unbelief, which wages war on human peace and blights the hopes of all mankind. In most of these tales, as in the typical legend of St. George, there is a princess to be delivered,—a lady, sweet and lovely, whose sacrifice is imminent at the moment of her champion's arrival on the scene. By this princess is intended the Soul:—the "Woman of Holy Writ," and the central figure of all sacred dramatic art of every date and country. That the allegory is of such wide and ancient repute, proves the identity of the needs and troubles of humanity throughout the ages. Yet one cannot fail to be struck with its special bearing on the present state of thought. It seems, indeed, as though the story of St. George and the Dragon might have been written yesterday, and dedicated to the men and women of our own times. Never, surely, has the dragon ravaged and despoiled the earth as he does now. When at first he came upon us, it was not much that the monster's appetite demanded. It was satisfied with the sacrifice of a few superstitions and antique beliefs, which we could well spare, and the loss of which did not greatly affect us. These were the mere sheep and kine of our outlying pastures. But at length all these were swept away, and the genius of Materialism remained unsatisfied. Then we began, reluctantly, to yield up to it far more precious things,— our religious convictions, our hold on sacred Scriptures, our trust in prayer, our confidence in heavenly providence,—the very children of our hearts, bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, endeared to us by the hereditary faith which had become even as nature itself. All these we gave and with tears; many of them had made life lovely and desirable to us, and without them our hearth seemed desolate. But complaint and resistance we knew to be in vain; materialistic science devoured them one by one; none were left in all that ancient city, the Human Kingdom, whose ruler and monarch is Mind. This our sovereign-Mind— had hitherto cherished with fond delight one lovely and only child, the Soul. He believed that she would survive and perpetuate him, and that for ever her heirs should sit on the throne of his kingdom. To part with her would be blight and ruin to all his hopes and aspirations. Better that he should never have drawn breath than that he should be forced to see the child he had brought into the world perish before his eyes.

Still, with ominous persistence the terrible monster hangs about the gates of the city. All the air is filled with the pestilent effluvium of his nostrils. Relentless, indeed, is this pessimistic science. It demands the sacrifice of the Soul itself, the last lovely and precious thing remaining to despoiled humanity. Into the limbo of those horrid jaws must be swept—with all other and meaner beliefs and hopes— faith in the higher Selfhood and its immortal Life. The Soul must perish! Despair seizes the Mind of man. For some time he resists the cruel demand; he produces argument after argument, appeal after appeal. All are unavailing. Why should the Soul be respected where nothing else is spared? Forced into surrender, the Mind at last yields up his best-beloved. Life is no more worth living now; black death and despair confront him; he cares no longer to be ruler over a miserable kingdom bereft of its fairest treasure, its only hope. For of what value to man is the Mind without the Soul?

Poor and puny now indeed the crown, the wealth, the royalty of Mind. Their value lay alone in this, that some day they should devolve on her, that for her they were being garnered and stored and cherished.

So the dragon triumphs; and the Soul, cast out of the city, stands face to face with the black abyss, expecting her Destroyer.

Then, even at that last and awful hour, the Divine Deliverer appears, the Son of Hermes, Genius of Interpretation, Champion of the Spiritual Life. As Hercules slew the Hydra, the Lion, and many another noxious thing; as Theseus the Minotaur, as Bellerophon the Chimera, as Rama the Ogre Ravan, as David the Giant, as Perseus the Gorgon and Sea-monster, so St. George slays the Dragon and rescues from its insatiable clutch the hope and pride of humanity.

This hero of so many names is the Higher Reason; the Reason that knows (gnosis) as distinguished from the Lower Reason of mere opinion (doxa). He is no earthly warrior. He carries celestial arms, and bears the ensigns of the God. Thus the commemoration of St. George, and of the famous legend of which he is the hero, involves the praise of all valiant knights of the Hermetic art throughout the ages. Every divine man who has carried the enchanted sword, or worn the sandals of the winged God, who has fought with monsters and championed the King's daughter—Una, the one peerless maid—is celebrated in the person of our national patron saint. The Order to which he belongs is a Spiritual Order of the Garter, or Girdle of the Virgin; and its ensign is the armed chevalier trampling under his horse's hoofs the foul and furious agent of the nether world.

The idea of knighthood implies that of activity. The pattern saint and flower of chivalry is one who gladly fights and would as gladly die in noble causes. The words pronounced of old times on the dubbing of a knight, "Be gentle, valiant, and fortunate," are not words which could realise themselves in the dullard or the churl. To the good knight, the ardent love of beauty, in all its aspects is indispensable. The fair lady of his dreams is the spiritual bright-shining of goodness, which expresses itself to him fitly and sweetly in material and visible things. Hence he is always poet, and fighter in some cause. And he is impelled to fight because the love of beauty burns so hot within him that he cannot abide to see it outraged. His very gentleness of heart is the spur of his valour. Champion and knight as well as thinker and student, the Son of Hermes is of necessity a reformer of men, a redeemer of the world. It is not enough for him to know the doctrine, he must likewise do the will of the gods, and bid the kingdom of the Lord come upon earth without, even as in the heaven within his heart.

For the rule of his Order is the Law of Love, and "Love seeketh not her own."

 
 
 

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