Being an unused chapter from The Trials of Arthur Revised Edition

King Arthur

In 1996 I went looking for King Arthur.

Not the historical Arthur, you understand. No, a modern day Arthur: a biker, a druid and an eco-warrior, living here in the UK, who was making a name for himself at the time by going around calling himself King Arthur.

I wanted to write a book about him.

I spent the better part of the year on my quest to find him. I was driving from my home town in Kent, the county of the Saxons, westwards into the Celtic lands, to the two great Stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge, and to Glastonbury in Somerset, following the A303, always with some specific instruction to meet him at such and such a place, at such and such a time, usually passed on to me by Steve Andrews, the friend who had originally told me about Arthur, and every time I got to wherever it was, he wouldn’t be there. Something would have happened to hold him up. Or he just went somewhere else instead. We were like two satellites whirling about in the night sky on two separate orbits, skimming quite close to each other at times, but never quite meeting.

I got to go to a lot of druid ceremonies in this time. I stood around in circles in fields in the early morning while the mists were rising, listening to incantations and chants and mysterious-sounding prayers. I watched as people did things with flowers and goblets of mead and bits of bread and knives and swords. I said, “hail!” to this and “hail!” to that. I watched as people divided the circle into quarters and summoned up the spirits of the four directions. I said “Hail,” to the East, and “Whatcha” to the South, and “Hiya,” to the West and “Howdy” to the North. I listened as people likened the four quarters to the four elements. The East was Air, the South was Fire, the West was Water, the North was Earth. I joined in as we did the “I-A-O” as a long-drawn-out chant, the vowel sounds blending into each other, and travelling around the circle with a life of their own. The chant would rise and fall around the circle, lift into the air a little, like a spacecraft about to take off, before falling into silence again. I didn’t know what any of it was for really. It felt like I was in Church, only someone had forgot to put the heating on. Or the roof, come to that. It was often very cold.

You may wonder why I was doing this? Why was I going to all this trouble? Whenever I described my quest to anybody, the response was almost immediate. “He thinks he’s King Arthur you say? So where are you meeting him then? In a lunatic asylum?”

I was doing it all on the say-so of my friend Steve, who was – is — by his own admission, something of an eccentric.

Steve believes in all sorts of things that other people don’t believe in. He believes in the presence of ETs amongst us. He believes that a vast, all encompassing alien conspiracy is overwhelming our world. He believes in gods and demons and angels and aliens, and crop circles and hidden technologies and great forces at work on our planet. He used to be a scientologist. He’s tried every kind of belief system you can imagine. He’s been on a quest all his life, to find out the truth behind the appearance of things. He has a taste for the unusual and the arcane and lists amongst his friends people who think they are aliens, people who think they are gods, and people who think they are gurus.

So why not a person who thinks he’s King Arthur too? Maybe King Arthur is just another one of these weird people that Steve has a taste for. But, then, maybe that doesn’t matter either.

Myth

One of the words we sometimes use for a particular category of belief is “myth”. Myths are the stories we tell ourselves. Sometimes we use the word to mean something that is demonstrably untrue. Sometimes we use the word to mean a fiction. However, sometimes fiction can convey more truth than the facts, as in the great works of art. Shakespeare wasn’t writing the truth in the literal sense. His plays are all fictions. But they contain greater truths than the facts could convey. Mythic truths. Truths which speak to the heart.

This is the sense in which I am using the word “myth”, to describe the great works of art and the structures of thought of a civilisation, as in “the Greek Myths”. The “myths” here are not false in the sense that they are delusions. They are the mental and emotional map of the landscape of the mind of a people. The gods and the demigods, the satyrs and the fauns, the nymphs and the muses, Fates and gorgons, centaurs and heroes, Zeus and Artemis, Dionysus and Ares, are the psychic inhabitants of the ancient Greek’s inner country. They are their own description of the forces that worked upon their world, told in the form of stories. They represent the accumulated experience of the Greek people over many thousands of years.

Our modern world, too, is the product of a myth. It’s a myth that is so all-pervasive, so present, so all-encompassing, that we don’t even know it is there. It has shaped our world. The stories we used to tell, about gods and demons and heroes and divinities, battling it out in a cosmic scale to create the world, have given way to another myth. There are no gods or demons any more. There are market forces instead. The new myth is money, and like the old myth, it too has its gurus and its theologians and its priests and its bishops, its oracles and its soothsayers, its protesters and its poets. It too has its superstitions and its stories. Market traders pray to their own private gods. In this way the new myth and the old myth intertwine. And out of this myth our world is fashioned. And where a motorway is carved, or a wood is destroyed, or a new shopping complex is built where once animals nested, is determined by this myth. Why we get up in the morning and what we do with our day. Our rituals and our habits. The layout of our houses. The technology we use. Everything is laid down in the loom of the myth in a certain pre-determined pattern. We’ve grown so used to it, we’ve forgotten it is there. We just view it as our daily life. We make choices within the myth. We decide what colour our wallpaper will be, what shops to go to and what to watch on TV that night, but we’ve forgotten that there might be choices outside of the myth. We’ve forgotten that there might be other myths to choose from.

This is where Arthur comes in. King Arthur is a myth. He is a set of stories laid down by history. He represents the history of a people, an accumulation of themes, a chapbook of memories, a guide to action. Was there ever a “real” King Arthur or not? It doesn’t matter. In the country of the mind everything is real.

So there are a set of old stories in the ancient Celtic tongue, about a hero who fought the Saxons, a warrior Arthur, who may have led a band of knights in that Dark Ages period after the Romans had left: fast moving cavalry men, trained in the art of battle, who raced about the country, from Caledonia to Cymru, holding back the Saxon hoards in their invasion of this ancient land. This may or may not have happened. One of the stories tells us that he was a Christian warrior who carried a cross on his shoulders and by that means defeated his enemies, another that he carried an image of the Virgin Mary. He is rarely described as a King. Sometimes he is called “the soldier Arthur,” sometimes “the tyrant”.

Whatever: it is a very different Arthur we meet in these ancient tales than the one we meet in the medieval stories. He is more robust, more flawed, more mysterious, in a sense more real, than the courtly Arthur of the later romances.

Three Powerful Swineherds of the Island of Britain:

One particular story tells of a pig-rustling episode. This is from the Welsh Triads, a set of mnemonics designed to give the outline of a story for a poet to embellish. The Triads were written down in Medieval times but obviously refer to a more ancient tradition of oral poetry. The story is called The Three Powerful Swineherds of the Island of Britain, and it does just that, it tells you the names of the three swineherds: Pryderi son of Pwyll, Drystan son of Tallwch and Coll son of Collfrewy. It also tells you who they were keeping the swine for, and where: in what particular field, in what town and what county. The story is rural and parochial rather than courtly and elevated. It’s a completely different kind of story than the ones told by Chrietien de Troyes or Malory in later centuries.

Arthur and March and Cai and Bedwyr are in this story, names we recognise from the romances, only they are attempting to steal pigs. They try force at first, but fail. We are left to imagine what kind of force. Did they undertake a full-scale assault on the pig-run? It’s not exactly the Holy Grail is it? It’s not quite a knightly quest. They are fighting for pigs rather than maidens. Their purpose is earthly rather than spiritual. Later, force having failed, they try deception. Again they fail. You wonder what the deception might be? Perhaps they posed as buyers, or tried to trick the swineherds of their pigs. Perhaps they got the swineherds drunk and tried to beat them at dice. Finally they try stealth, creeping up on the pig-run late at night, under the cover of darkness. Again they fail.

Where is the Chivalrous Arthur here? Where are the Maidens, the Jousts, the Quests? Arthur wants to steal some pigs and he uses every kind of underhand trick to get them.

And then a strange magical element is brought into the story. Coll son of Collfrewy, is tending the swine of Dallwyr Dallben in Glyn Dallwyr in Cornwall. One of the swine is pregnant. We are given her name. It is Henwen. And there is a prophecy attached to this pregnancy, “that the Island of Britain would be the worse for the womb-burden.” How could this be? How could the pregnancy of a pig affect the fate of a nation? We’re obviously into some mythic territory here.

Arthur raises an army in order to destroy the pig. There is a chase: a pig-chase. Henwen is about to give birth and is looking for a place to nest. You wonder what kind of an army this is, to spend its time chasing pregnant pigs?

At Penrhyn Awstin in Cornwall the pig enters the sea, with the powerful swineherd close on her heels. We presume the powerful swineherd is Arthur, although it’s not made explicit. Then she enters a wheat field in Gwent and gives birth to a grain of wheat and a bee. “And therefore from that day to this the Wheat Field in Gwent is the best place for wheat and for bees.” Then she goes to Llonion in Pembroke where she gives birth to a grain of barley and a grain of wheat. “Therefore, the barley of Llonion is proverbial.”

Creation

She is clearly not any old pig any more. She is a totem animal giving birth to the world and to the primal forces within it. Some of it is fruitful, but some of it is not. At the Hill of Cyferthwch in Arfon she gives birth to a wolf-cub and a young eagle. “The wolf was given to Mergaed and the eagle to Breat, a prince of the North: and they were both the worse for them.” They are animals of ill-omen. Wolves and eagles are the enemies of man-kind. They attack the domesticated herds of the human landscape. The wilderness is encroaching upon the homestead. Arthur and his army have chased the birth-pig to the edges of the wilderness, where the wild creatures reign. The creatures are given to princes of the realm but bring them bad luck. In the heart of the civilised world, the wilderness still casts its dark spell.

Finally, at Llanfair in Arfon, Henwen the magical pig of creation, gives birth to a kitten. The place of birth is described: under the Black Rock. The Powerful Swineherd takes decisive action: he throws the kitten from the Rock and into the sea. But the kitten does not die. Instead the sons of Palug take care of it in a place called Môn. Like the eagle and the wolf before it, it brings only harm. “That was Palug’s Cat, and it was one of the Three Great Oppressions of Môn, nurtured therein. The second was Daronwy, and the third was Edwin, king of Lloegr.

We don’t know what kind of harm Palug’s Cat causes. We don’t know what the Three Great Oppressions of Môn are, or who these other people are. This is a mnemonic not a story. It gives the elements of the story in their proper order, but the poet is supposed to know the details off by heart, and to be able to recite them in a poem. Thus we are given no more clues than this.

The story is both rustic and magical at the same time. It is local, and it is universal. We have hints of a more ancient Arthur here: a pre-Christian Arthur. The great Quests of the Medieval Romance are preceded by a pig-chase. The mystical concept of the Holy Grail is a substitute for a pig in labour. But like the Wasteland that is associated with the Grail Quest, the pig is ill-omened, and gives birth to a blight upon land.

What kind of a landscape are we entering? And who is this Arthur, suddenly transformed into a Powerful Swineherd who sacrifices kittens by throwing them into the sea? It’s no easy story this. Blights and blessings harrowed from the womb in convulsive birth. Vast armies raised to chase magical pigs. Hints of treachery and sacrifice and a list of names that cleave the tongue to the palate, so specific and precise in their references that they seem to be based on real people. And if these swineherds and their pigs are real, why not Arthur too? Why not March and Cai and Bedwyr?

We’re caught between two worlds here: between the mundane and the magical, the natural and the supernatural. The landscape seems real. The places are real. The people bear names that make it sound as if they are characters from history. But the divine pig, Henwen, traverses this landscape giving birth to the elements along the way. It is small scale and large scale. It is past and present. It is the landscape of rural Britain– contemporary when the story was first spoken – of small farms and homesteads, in which a magical act of creation is taking place at the origins of the world itself.

And that, too, is the nature of our story: a 21st century legend set amongst the motorways and housing estates, the shopping centres and factories of the modern world, but in a place where the myth is real, where creation has its being, and where a magical act of transformation can change the world.

Read more about the book:

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What are these
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on’t? Live you? or are you aught
That man may question?
  • William Shakespeare – Macbeth

Pronoia

Synchronicity. It is a word invented by the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung sometime in early part of the 20th century.

The first time he used the word publicly was at a memorial address for Richard Wilhelm in 1930. Wihelm was the German translator of the I-Ching. The word was used, in this context, as an explanation for how the I-Ching achieves its magic. Later Jung worked with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli to develop the idea into a full-blown theory.

It refers to a series of coincidences that appear to have some kind of meaning.

When two or more events conspire by their unlikely coincidence to lead you on a journey, that is known as synchronicity. Some people live by it.

Another word might be serendipity, a happy accident. Or you could call it “pronoia”, the positive form of paranoia, meaning that the world isn’t out to get you, it is out to guide you.

Other words might be “fate” or “wyrd” or “destiny”.

Fate doesn’t necessarily refer to something inevitable, as if the story of your life was prewritten in the stars, and all you have to do is to live it. Rather it refers to a kind of force acting upon the world, something primal and ancient that breaks in on the ordinariness of our lives. You know when it is there. Something happens and it startles you. You stand back from it shaken and amazed. The whole world seems to turn to you at that moment. It is like the eye of the universe is bearing down upon you. But it doesn’t tell you what to do. Instead it asks a question. It asks what you will do next. Will you rise to the challenge, or will you fall? Will you be brave enough to stand up to your fate, or will you crumble beneath its challenges?

It may be the word “fate” and the word “fairy” are related, as is the word “fey”. The Fey are spectral beings from another dimension whose job it is to question you, to prod you, to lure you, to tempt you, to challenge you.

Sometimes the Fey appear in the form of human beings, and maybe then they challenge you on an emotional as well as a psychic level, as Morgan Le Fey challenged King Arthur.

The word “wyrd” too refers to a form of fate. We spell it this way, with a “y”, in order to distinguish it from the modern use of the word, as something just odd or out of the ordinary, although, in fact, they are the same word.

The weird sisters in Macbeth are weird in that they represent fate, not because they are old or ugly or strange. They are archaic beings, like the Fates of ancient Greece; and like the Fates, there are three of them. When they tell Macbeth his future, they do not tell him how he should act. It is hubris, his own vanity, which brings him down, not the weird sisters.

The wyrd is the web of life. It is the vast, all-encompassing fabric of being, which binds us together. It weaves the universe into a whole. We are held together by it, all of us, as one.

In Jungian terms synchronicity is an acausal principle which links coincidental events into a meaningful pattern. One example Jung gives is when he was talking about a dream in which a scarab beetle appeared, and a real beetle flew in through the window at the same time, which Jung interpreted as a sign.

Jung believed that the mind and the universe are connected on some level, that the mind can influence the universe.

The sceptics argument against this is that the ability to read meaning into apparently random events is a product of the human brain, not a law of nature. But then, you ask, what is the human brain but a product of nature? So our tendency to read meaning into random events is a product of nature too. It is nature’s counter-balance to its own meaninglessness, to have created a being whose very purpose is to find meaning.

A magic carpet

Magic carpet

Perhaps the mind and the universe interweave with each other, like the warp and the weft in a carpet. Maybe this is the meaning of the magic carpet of Near Eastern imagination. It is like this: the physical universe is a linear series of complex causal events coursing through time, while the mind is the lateral perception of it, creating meaning across time. The mind and the universe interweave with each other, binding themselves into a pattern.

Thus we are instruments of meaning in a random universe. Synchronicity is not external to us, it is internal to us. It is not a law of nature, it is a choice we make. Does the universe have meaning? Yes it does. It has the meaning we choose to give it.

This might be the meaning of the word “destiny” too. A destiny is a destination. But there’s nothing inevitable about a destination. It’s somewhere you choose to go. You are not obliged to go there. You could choose somewhere else instead.

So that’s it. We’re free. We can choose to follow a synchronistic event, or not. It’s up to us.

It all depends what we’re lead by. Some people are lead by money. People who are lead by money are the slaves of the money-religion. The people who control the money-religion are money-priests. We call them bankers. They are the people whose job it is to create money out of thin air. The theologians of the money-religion we call economists. The money-religion is what rules our world right now, but it is no more than a religion. It is based upon equally spurious myths.

Other people are lead by ambition, or sex, or by hatred. Some people are lead by fear. Other people are lead by beauty, by love, by poetry. Some people are lead by football. Synchronicity is just what you choose to follow in the grand cascade of events that make up your life. You can choose the good, or you can choose otherwise. You can choose to be lead by what is helpful to your world, or you can choose to be lead by something else. Sometimes you can choose to do nothing but sit on your haunches and ruminate.

Some people – most of us these days – are lead by what we see on the TV. There’s a whole world of constructed reality there on that screen which keeps us distracted from ourselves and our purpose. If there’s a war going on but we don’t see the bodies, maybe it doesn’t really seem like a war. We don’t hear the screams of pain, or the horror, or the wails of grief. We’re not there inside the traumatised child’s mind when his parents are splattered like wet mud all over the walls of his home. We don’t know the hell of it. So we buy all of these constructed arguments about peace and democracy and protecting our way of life. We buy all of the calm reassurances that justify the madness: that we’re fighting this war for the sake of peace, that war is the route to peace, that only war can bring us peace, instead of more and more and more war.

The TV screen is an instrument of hypnosis. It flickers at you in a certain rhythm, constant and unrelenting. It spirals into your unconscious. It makes you think you know what’s going on. Meanwhile it saps you of imagination. It saps you of empathy. It saps you of intelligence. It saps you of your soul.

So you can choose. You can choose to turn your telly off and go and watch the sunset instead.

Imagination

My friend King Arthur Pendragon – who believes himself to be the reincarnation of the historical Arthur – refers to synchronicity as “Magic”. Magic is an affirming event, a confirmation, as when he went to Stonehenge and asked for a sign, and a black and white bird flew out of the stones and hit him in the face. This was at the time when he was asking the universe for confirmation of his identity. Arthur took that bird as the sign and called it magic. He’s been dressed in a white nightie with a circlet ever since.

The dictionary definition of the word “magic” is the use of charms, rites, incantations or spells to influence events; an extraordinary power or influence producing surprising results and defying explanation; the art of influencing events and producing marvels. From the Old French, magique, from the Latin, magice, from the Greek magike, from magos, one of the members of the learned or priestly class, from the Persian magush, possibly from the proto Indo-European magh, to be able, to have power, related to the word machine. Magic as a machine of power.

Traditionally magicians would invoke forces in order to control events. They would claim to whip up rain, or bring the clouds, or make the winds blow, by the force of their magical will. It’s the first step on the road to science, as no wise magician would attempt to invoke forces he didn’t comprehend. Often the magician would work by knowing the event in advance. By knowing the stars he would understand time. By understanding time he would know what would happen. This is what Stonehenge is for. It tells you in advance what will happen and when. It tells you the times of the solstices and the equinoxes with astonishing accuracy. It is a Neolithic sun temple, over 5,000 years old, and yet its measure of time is more accurate than will be achieved again for another 4,500 years at least. That, surely, is a form of magic.

If the magician, understanding the workings of the universe, were to predict an eclipse, say, what power he would have. He could tell the people it was he who had ordained that the sun should go out and make the people bow down before him in fear and awe and wonder. Knowledge is power, and power is an addictive drug. That is why we should never trust magicians.

In our use of the word it works both ways. It’s more like a conversation than a controlling mechanism. It involves listening to the world as well as telling it what to do. Magic involves signs, portents, auguries as well as spells and enchantments. It’s an exchange with nature, a two-way process. It is reading the universe and then asking the universe for support. It is trusting to fate. Perhaps it is trusting to randomness. It is trusting to the randomness of the universe and then living according to its signs. It is a way of short-circuiting the fatalism of social conditioning by following other rules. It is making up your own rules instead.

Magic is imagination. It is imagining a world into existence. William Blake said, “What is now proved was once only imagined.” David Widgery said, “the most revolutionary force is the power of the imagination.”

By following the thread of synchronicity we release the magic of the imagination to create new possibilities in a new world.

First published in The Big Issue, 2003

Arthur and John

“So unbelievable it might just be true.” Kindred Spirit

You may have thought that writing was a genteel sort of trade, scholarly and sedate, involving little more effort than a few quiet hours with a book and a pen. Well, yes it is. Unless you happen to be writing a book with Arthur Pendragon that is. Being the co-author of a book about ‘90s protest culture with someone claiming to be the reincarnation of a dark ages battle chieftain was anything but quiet.

I won’t give the story away. Suffice it to say that it’s the true story of a man calling himself King Arthur, most often seen dressed in a white nightie with a circlet round his head, and that it involves Stonehenge, various protest sites, Druid rituals, some court cases, an extended stay in Bullingdon Gaol and that, if it has any purpose at all, it is to encourage you to rebellion. As Arthur says, “if I can do it, anyone can.” Not that he’s asking you to wear a white nightie to do it. Clothes are not the issue here. Self-empowerment is.

My original conception was that Arthur and I would spend time together taking part in various protests, and that, out of this, the story would emerge. I imagined various contemporary events with flashbacks telling the tale.

I hired a car and we travelled up to the anti-nuclear rally outside Faslane Trident Submarine base in Scotland. There was me, Arthur, and Mog Ur Kreb Dragonrider (who deserves a book to himself, if only to explain what his name is supposed to mean.) We were going to meet a man claiming to be John the Baptist. It’s obviously a trait of mine, hanging around with people with strange names claiming to be someone else.

On the morning of the protest we went to pick John up. You have to imagine the scene. John the Baptist is, in fact, a football casual, a Celtic supporter – he’s so neat he even irons his underpants – whereas Arthur is basically a hairy biker. John is a teetotaller, whereas Arthur loves his cider. It was six o’clock in the morning. Arthur was groggy with a heavy-duty hangover, whereas John was all bright-eyed and sparky. John is a Christian whereas Arthur is a pagan. They distrusted each other immediately.

So there I am, at the wheel of the hire car, with the two biggest egos on the planet in the back: a man who thinks he’s King Arthur Pendragon, and another one who thinks he’s John the Baptist. It’s a wonder the car could pull the load, so overburdened was it with maniacal, self-proclaimed glory.

John has this habit, what he calls “booming” someone. He comes up very close and fixes you in the eye and then rants. He has very startling, electric blue eyes. Once we had parked the car I left Arthur and the Baptist on their own, waiting for the sparks to fly, which they duly did. John boomed, closing in on Arthur‘s drink-fogged face, blinding him with his expositions; Arthur got bored and then, to get away from the onslaught, promptly got himself arrested. He saw a number of policemen protecting a line, walked across the line, and was carried away to the waiting meat wagons and the local police-cells.

The word went round that Arthur had just been arrested.. He was dressed in his usual gear. I over heard someone talking about it. “What’s he been arrested for?” they asked. “Bad dress-sense?”

It was 24 hours before I saw him again.

After that, not wanting to be outdone, John was angling to get himself arrested too. He was trying to urge me to drive the hire car at the police lines and through the gates of the base. “Call yourself a revolutionary,” he said when I refused.

So that was it. My first attempt to get material for the book. I’ve lost Arthur and I’m left with a ranting football-supporting, Old Testament prophet frustrated that he can’t ruin my future career on a revolutionary whim.

Needless to say that particular story never made it into the book. I mean, where could you take it? I only tell it now so you know what traumas I was subjected to to get this story into print.

Countess Services

Here’s another one. This happened a few weeks later. I met Arthur in Amesbury, near Stonehenge, where there was a meeting with the Department of Transport about the proposed bypass around the monument. Arthur had been invited as an interested party, and I was invited as his prospective biographer. I’d still not managed to get a single word onto paper.

After the meeting Arthur and I went to the pub to discuss the book. We had a few drinks. I had return tickets, and was about to leave, when Arthur grabbed hold of the tickets and ripped them to pieces. “Trust me,” he said, “I’ll get you home.” We spent the evening in the pub drinking away the advance money before making our way to the Countess Services on the A303 to start hitching home.

Well that was all very well, wasn’t it? It was early in February, and freezing cold. Arthur – who’s famous for this sort of thing – promptly fell asleep. He sort of crumpled into a swaddled lump on the verge while I was left stamping my feet against the cold. After that it was a night of sheer hell, with a biting wind searing through my clothes and an unconscious Druid for company. I went looking for warmth. The only place I could find it was in a waste bin full of cardboard. I climbed into the bin layering the cardboard around me and tried to rest. Well it was better than standing by the road.

So Arthur now has a new story to tell. He’s the man who got the author, CJ Stone, to sleep in a bin. I won’t tell you what else he says about me. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Buy the Trials of Arthur revised edition here

1.

I went over to see King Arthur at Stonehenge.

I went over to see King Arthur at Stonehenge.

In case you don’t know him: King Arthur is this ex-biker, ex-soldier, ex-builder (not necessarily in that order) who had a brainstorm back in the eighties and decided he was King Arthur, after which he donned a white frock and a circlet, and has been causing various kinds of trouble ever since.

I wrote a book with him once.

a Suzuki VX 800

Well I say he’s an “ex” biker, but this isn’t quite right. Once a biker always a biker. As King Arthur says, he may not ride a flesh and blood horse this time around, but he rides an iron horse instead: in this case a Suzuki VX 800, a growling beast of a machine, more like a dragon than a horse (except that it had a flat battery while I was there, so it wasn’t growling at anyone at all).

Getting to see King Arthur is an expensive business

Getting to see King Arthur is an expensive business. I had to take a train to Salisbury, a bus to Amesbury, and a taxi from there to Stonehenge. There is a double-decker tourist bus from Salisbury railway station (for those of you thinking of making the journey) but this costs £17 including the entrance fee, and – given that Arthur is there protesting about the entrance fee, amongst other things – it probably wouldn’t have been proper to have been seen supporting English Heritage’s on-going exploitation of the monument (or “temple” as Arthur prefers to call it) even if it had meant a tourist guide with a microphone giving an on-board history lecture along the way.

I was with Susanna, who is Arthur’s “Dame Knight Commander”, a title I think he stole from a James Bond movie or something.

As I say, he is currently parked up at Stonehenge where he is protesting against the government’s failure to agree plans on the future of the monument – having already spent £37 million on consultations – and wasting several years of Arthur’s life in the process, attending a whole string of long-drawn-out, dreary and, finally, pointless meetings.

The fact that he was invited to any meetings at all is a sign that he is taken seriously by certain people in the government. But then again it might just be another way of shutting him up.

My first sight was of him leaning against a wooden fence which was strung out with hand-painted banners, looking wind-blown and swarthy, dressed in his robes, a silver circlet about his brow, chatting idly to the tourists who were, naturally, intrigued by the peculiar sight of a dark ages battle chieftain in full regalia hanging around outside Stonehenge as if he owned the place.

Stonehenge is his natural environment, of course, both as a biker (he used to attend the festival here) and as King Arthur. I think the tourists must have thought that he was placed here specially by English Heritage as a photo opportunity, monumental figure that he is. I saw at least one person grab a shot standing next to him, and judging by his demeanour, standing there in a relaxed manner with his arm around the young archaeological digger, looking kingly for the camera, I would guess that he is very adept by now at being a part of the scenery to be photographed by. He is certainly more photogenic than the turnstiles or the tunnel or the prefabricated building posing as the visitor centre.

I had brought him two bottles of cider and some packets of ham from the Co-op (two for the price of one) as his diet consists exclusively of meat and alcohol.

His first words to me were: “It wasn’t a raven, see, it was a black and white bird.”

“Pardon?”

And he got one of his fellow protesters to show me a photograph of a large black bird with white flashes on its wings. “It’s huge,” he said. “Sometimes it sits there on the fence. It has white patches on the underside of its wings. We’ve tried looking it up, but we can’t find out what it is.”

I had no idea what he was talking about at first. I thought he said, “rave” rather than “raven” so it was a strange picture that came into my head, of a woman at a rave-party all dressed in black and white.

It was only when I was looking at the pictures of this large, black unidentified bird on his friend’s camera, that it all became clear to me.

He was referring to the mythology of his own life, and the way I had shifted it in the book for my own ends.

It had happened like this:

When he’d begun to have his revelations about the possibility that he might be King Arthur – a very disturbing experience at the time – him and a friend had driven over to Stonehenge so that he could look for some kind of a sign. They’d hopped the fence and gone into the Stones in the dead of night, at which point a large bird had flown out from amongst the stones and, in a flurry of air and furious flapping, its wing-tip had brushed his face. He took this to be the “sign” and went home contented.

He had no idea what kind of bird it was, though he had the distinct impression that it was black and white. He was living in a caravan under an oak tree at the time, in which a magpie was lodged, so he assumed the bird at Stonehenge must have been a magpie too.

Later, when we came to write the book, I reconstructed the story somewhat, to serve a mythic purpose. I made the bird into a raven. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, because the birds at the Tower of London, a site associated with the idea of monarchy in Britain, were also ravens; secondly, because one of the gods of ancient Britain, Bran, was associated with ravens; and thirdly, because I wove the image of a raven throughout the book to represent the spirit of ancient Britain observing the current state of the nation.

It was a poetic conceit, of course, but it had a certain resonance. I liked it. I changed the Stonehenge bird into a raven to fit in with the scheme.

I’ve since tried looking up the bird Arthur’s friend showed me on the internet. There is only one possible candidate, a white-winged Chough. Unfortunately the white-winged Chough is an Australian bird and cannot possibly be in Stonehenge.

So let’s just say it’s a mystery.

What is this bird?

This is the very black and white bird that appears at Stonehenge. Photograph by Vivian Thomas.

2.

Every so often one of those huge air-conditioned tourists coaches would draw up

Stonehenge was very busy when we arrived, this still being tourist season. There was also an extensive archaeological dig going on at the same time.

Every so often one of those huge air-conditioned tourists coaches would draw up and, with a hiss of its power-assisted doors, would disgorge its well-dressed contents into the car park, cameras at the ready, where they would line up at the gates of the underpass leading into the monument, chattering away in their native tongue.

Meanwhile Arthur was running his picket

In the same field as Arthur, just down the hill a little, there was a green and white striped marquee tent with an archaeology exhibition inside. My friend Mike Parker-Pearson is the director of the site and I wanted to go and say hello. Unfortunately there was a circle of people around him listening with rapt attention as he was animatedly telling them about this year’s discoveries, waving his arms about enthusiastically like the presenter on a TV show, so I was unable to get his attention.

As it happens he is almost like the presenter of a TV show, as there was a Time Team special being filmed from there.

Meanwhile Arthur was running his picket.

NOTICE TO QUIT

There was a string of banners tied up along the fence. One said: “Honour Thy Spoken Word.” It is a reference to the promise that English Heritage made to improve the site and the facilities at Stonehenge, to remove the fences and to return the monument to its natural environment.

Another banner said: “Take Up Thy Fences And Walk”, which was Arthur’s call for a political miracle, put forward in the following terms:

NOTICE TO QUIT

Our book

“Pick up thy fence & Walk”

And return it to its rightful owner

The peoples of this Once Green & Pleasant Land

You see, this is what I like about Arthur, the sheer scale of his vision and his nerve, him, a biker in a dress, giving the British Government notice to quit.

And I guess at this point it would be worthwhile to offer some justification for all of this.

Who is this guy?

Is he really King Arthur?

What relation does he bear to the historical or the mythological King Arthur?

And therein, of course, lies the key, since it is not actually clear that there ever was an historical King Arthur as such, and the mythological Arthur is precisely that – mythological – and it is therefore open to interpretation what we understand by what that means.

The only historical Arthur that we can really prove actually existed is this Arthur, our Arthur, the one standing before us now, clad in his robes, mounting a picket at Stonehenge. And if this guy seeks to call upon the spirit of a mythological being as justification for his actions, then who are we to argue?

My view is this: that whatever you think about the man or his purpose, the fact is that he invoked the name, and that by invoking the name he called it down upon himself and made it real. He has lived the part. He has stood his ground. He has adopted the mantle and used it to some effect. Is he the reincarnation of some historical Arthur? Who knows? Does it even matter? What matters is that there is an idea of Arthur, and that, as Arthur’s go, this one is as good as they get.

As someone once said, “If King Arthur didn’t exist we would have had to have invented him.”

In this case King Arthur clearly does exist, only this time around he has managed to invent himself.

3.

So after this we went back to Arthur’s tiny caravan by the drove, within sight of Stonehenge, to drink some cider and to talk.

Arthur said, indicating the monument only a few hundred yards away, “see, that’s what I see when I get up in the morning.”

Actually the reason we were there was that someone (John Higgs) had written a film script based around Arthur’s life and our book, which Susanna wanted to read out to him and to get his approval.

Arthur doesn’t actually read very much.

He said, “I trust you two. If you think it’s OK, that’s good enough for me.”

I think that by the end of the evening he’d probably said this several times at least, this being his habit once “under ciderance” that he starts to repeat himself.

So Susanna read the script, Arthur and I drank cider, I fell asleep, and then it was dark.

Susanna and I were supposed to be travelling back to London together, but it was very late by now, I was drunk, and Arthur and I wanted to drink more. So instead one of Arthur’s neighbours drove us into nearby Amesbury, we dropped Susanna off at the bus station, and I went into an off-license and got more cider.

I don’t remember much more.

Just two things.

One was the sight of a line of cards strung up across the caravan. This must have been earlier in the day as it was still light. Arthur pointed them out to us and asked us to read them. They were cards from well-wishers posted from various parts of the globe, and were the idea behind this story.

Arthur said, “That’s what makes this whole thing worthwhile: all those cards sent to me from around the world.”

He said they were sent via the monument. I’ll give you the address at the end.

It was the year of foot-and-mouth in Britain

The second thing was very late at night. I’d been talking about our book. It was the year of foot-and-mouth in Britain, when huge funeral pyres piled up with carcasses were sending clouds of black acrid smoke into the atmosphere, and animals were being slaughtered by the million.

A sickness upon the land.

A sickness upon the land.

This of course is an Arthurian theme, as it appears in Cretien de Troye’s last unfinished romance about Arthur, Perceval, when there is an image of the wounded Fisher King, custodian of the grail, who abides in a land blighted by sickness. Perceval is taken to the King’s castle where he sees a strange procession, as four objects are carried through the castle. They include a bleeding lance, a sword, a silver tray and, of course, the grail itself. These are “the four hallows of the Holy Grail”. Later Perceval discovers that if he had asked the King about the grail the King would have been cured.

It’s hard to know what this story means, but the image of a land blighted by sickness was a peculiarly apt one at the time.

So we were sitting together in this minuscule caravan, very late at night as the candles began splutter out and we were left in darkness. Arthur was sitting opposite me. I was sitting on what would be my bed for the night, a small bench no more than two foot across. I could just make out Arthur’s silhouette in the faint light from outside. He was sitting cross legged on his bed, when he suddenly took one of his legs and, completely unconsciously, folded it on top of the other into what yogis refer to as the half-lotus position.

This was startling. He’s lost a lot of weight since being at Stonehenge. I always think of Arthur as this burly biker dude, but suddenly he looked like a Pixie sat there in what seemed like an unlikely position, and it reminded me of another time he had surprised me with his agility. This was when we were in Scotland together. We were in the grounds of this abandoned house, in the garden. There was a tree a few of us had unsuccessfully tried to climb. I had looked away briefly and then, suddenly, there he was, lying on a branch halfway up this tree, as if it had been no effort at all, or as if he had been transported there by magical means. And, again, he had looked like a Pixie, lying on his side, with a mischievous glint in his eye, leaving us all to wonder how he had done it.

On both occasions he had seemed less like a 21st century biker, and more like some elemental being, a creature of the woodland and the grove: a spirit rather than a man.

King Arthur’s address

Here is his address if you want to write to him.

King Arthur, Stonehenge, Wiltshire, Britain.

Remember this: that by writing to him you are also invoking him thus making him more real.

The more people who write, the more that English Heritage and the British Government will have to pay attention.

PRESS RELEASE AND STATEMENT OF INTENT

By Arthur Pendragon

Winter Solstice 2007

Stonehenge was presented to the Nation after the Great War in 1918. Sixty years later in 1978 a fence was erected around it. Thirty years on what’s changed?

NOTHING, LESS THAN NOTHING

After spending many years and an obscene amount of public money on consultations, enquiries and the commissioning of countless reports and architectural drawings, the Stonehenge Vision as expressed by English Heritage, to return the Temple to a natural environment and remove the fence that holds it in a stranglehold like a snared animal, is dead in the water. Why?

Because since 1918 H M Government, Her Loyal Opposition and agents, English Heritage, Wiltshire Constabulary, The Highways Agency, The Department of Transport, Salisbury District Council, The Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport, Wiltshire County Council and their predecessors, have been all equally complicit in the mis-management and failure to comply with their duty of care for this living, working Temple that was left to us, the people of this once green and pleasant land.

Countless enquiries amount to nothing because no one is prepared to invest in what is after all A World Heritage Site and, incidentally, the biggest cash cow in English Heritage’s arsenal.

The Authorities have shown their gross incompetence in their mis-management of Stonehenge and therefore, on behalf of the Nation and the people therein, I lay claim to this Temple and will mount a legal, moral and political challenge to their custodianship.

In the meantime, I have spent the best part of twenty years in negotiations with said agencies, only to have it brushed aside with the stroke of a pen. It is now my intention to celebrate Solstices and Equinoxes in the environs of Stonehenge but I will not enter the Temple until their promise is realized and the fence removed.

My mistake was, I dared to dream, dared to believe and to work for their vision. I too have a vision, to re-erect the fallen Stones, replace the lintels and rebuild our Temple. I call upon leaders of other religions, belief-structures and philosophies to support me in this. I call also upon the people of Salisbury to support me through the ballot box and to send a peoples’ champion to Westminster to represent them in Parliament – by, for and of the people.

Arthur Pendragon Independent Proposed Parliamentary Candidate for Salisbury