There have always been noble, fighting souls in the world, the hearts of knights. Our times are full of struggles to restore “order and justice”. Today’s society places a battery of responsibilities on the younger generations: ecological, social, humanitarian and now health. Accountability becomes guilt. The hearts of knights, always serving, full of energy, are caught up in one cause after another. We see them as climate activists, demonstrators for or against this or that demand, or full of zeal in political engagement to “change the system from within”. Very often, unfortunately, the great industrial machine, through its thousand media mouths, offers noble souls only a modest opportunity to repair the harm it itself is constantly causing. Thus, the human chivalry that exists in all times and places is dispersed in Don Quixote-like battles where the windmills have turned into windmills.
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The purpose of this article is to remind us that the soul, noble and fighting, is a timeless reality in humanity. The horses are in the pasture, or reduced under the bonnets of cars, the swords are in their scabbards, the shields have disappeared… in short… why should we still talk about chivalry? It is over and there is no going back, as expressed in the Hagakure, by Jocho Yamamoto:
It is said that what is called the spirit of an age is something to which one cannot return. And if this spirit is gradually dissipating, it means that the world is coming to an end. So even if you want to change the world and return to the spirit of a hundred years ago or more, you cannot. That’s why you have to make the most of each generation.
In order not to get lost in a romantic reverie, it is important to understand that we are talking about “fighting souls” and not just muscle-bound heroes. We are talking about chivalry because Rudolf Steiner said at the beginning of the 20th century: “What we lack is a chivalry of the Grail. “He spoke of this in response to the problems he saw looming in the materialistic development of modern society. He foresaw the cataclysms that would result from the unleashing of the forces of electricity, atomic energy and the ‘mechanisation’ of the world. Like others who expressed it differently in the last century, Steiner saw the path of civilisation as a frontal attack on the human soul and spirit and, at the same time, a painful self-inflicted experience from which everyone must emerge victorious. That is why, when we speak of chivalry, we are not projecting any image of the material past but are looking for the eternal roots that inspire the right actions to be taken.
Chivalry is the way of combat in the sense of dynamic action and the idea of service. The Grail is the cup where the blood of Christ is symbolically collected. It is also a magical stone that radiates from the center of the Round Table like a reservoir of strength, the cauldron in which the twelve knights surrounding it melt. The knighthood of the Grail, in modern terms, would be a circle of dynamic people, in service, and generating strength. If we leave it at that, any company director, football team captain or association president would end up saying to themselves, “Hey, so we’re Grail knights too!” So let’s go a step further.
Myths are like instructions, simplified diagrams that show us an extraordinary reality. The knights of the Grail gather around a round table, to which they have been invited to sit following the recognition of their qualities and their service. There are not an infinite number of seats. There are twelve, a symbolic number of dynamic unity. It is the resolution of the conflict between the individual (1) and the other (2) in the creation of a new and fraternal life (1+2=3). It takes at least three elements to achieve a geometric form that surpasses the flat opposition of two points. In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, we even see each knight sitting with his Lady at his side. They are united as body (the knight, the self), and soul (the Lady), and share with the other members of the Table, the Spirit, the only Son of God in all, Christ radiating from the Grail cup. There is a king at the Round Table, but he is at the same distance from the central cup as the other members. He, therefore, has no privileged relationship with the Spirit. The knights are ‘equal’ before the true Lord who is not of this world.
Once again, Rudolf Steiner had indicated that the values of the French Revolution, i.e., Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, were related to the Round Table. These are virtues of the conscience that must be conquered, like chivalry. It is misleading and disastrous to believe that these are innate gifts that are systematically applied in the social and political world. The Round Table is a spiritual plateau on which the knights have risen. At this height, they form a brotherhood where they recognise each other in the same struggle. They respect each other in the equality of their place as servants of the Spirit that animates all things. In the warmth of this brotherhood, they know what tradition calls the freedom of the children of God. They are no longer wanderers. The knight errant seeks a lord or lady to serve. He cannot live for himself. His solitary wandering is not freedom, it is a sterile prison, an alienation. This is not simply because he is alone but, above all, because he has no access to the Spirit, he does not consciously share the source of life, the central and common root of the Round Table. The Grail may pass before the knight, if he is not ready, he does not see it and continues to seek it. The wandering ends when the Grail is seen. The knight is no longer searching, he perceives reality and knows he belongs to the coherent universe of the Grail. He is freed from his ignorance. Such is his freedom.
These are fine words, but what does this have to do with the beginning of the article, with the question of the action of noble souls in the world? Fragmentation, division, scattering are terms that wonderfully characterise our state of consciousness. We are literally “pixelated” by our personal problems, and this has been the case since the dawn of time, but we also add to this the mass of information that the media overwhelms us with through all possible connections. Thus, the human organism, this miracle of chemical and electromagnetic subtlety, with this sensor brain, this heart that beats mysteriously, this cosmic body kingdom that we are in charge of is the image of the earth that carries us. Every day we sow more disorder and pollution in it. Even when we try to improve things, we often end up amplifying this chaos because our action is still too specialised, partial, without a long-term view, rushed. Like Percival, we are knights in arms on the day of Pentecost. In the rush of a frantic quest, we forget what we are looking for. Some peasants see Percival and remind him that Pentecost is a day of no weapons, a day of truce and rest; a pause in the usual course of activities to celebrate the Lord, the Source of all ordered life. The knight then realises that he has been wandering for five years in search of the Grail, but he has lost himself in the meanderings of his own life to the point of forgetting the object of his quest and the very God he was committed to serve. Having been sent on a mission, he has become deaf and blind to the mission order. Perceval is thus sent to the forest where his hermit uncle lives, who takes him in and cuts him off from his ordinary life. During this time of retreat, the hermit teaches the knight about the nobility of his origin and gives him a secret prayer: the order of mission. Perceval thus sets out again towards the Grail, armed with knowledge.
As far as we are concerned, it seems necessary to stop our activities radically in order to rediscover the original sound of the “inner forest”. This begins by becoming aware of the constant din of our thinking, and realising that it is precisely this mental and emotional chaos that we project into our relationships, to the world and to others, which forms ‘society’. This is the first act of the knighthood of the Grail, the awareness of actively participating in the disorder of the world every day. Through this attentive look into oneself, one can begin to discern the silent order of consciousness from the parasitic noise. One can cut through the so-called comforts and entertainments that dull the subtle organs of the soul. This is the “hermit” phase where one becomes a friend of simplicity, heir to the spacious emptiness that Diogenes the Cynic, the Cathars or the Knights Templar have bequeathed to us. Thus, one discovers, through one’s own inner experience, what Harmony and Justice can be by tracking down the hypocrisy of conformity. At this point, it becomes necessary to find “brothers in arms” to form a Round Table which, in today’s language, could be called a group or more precisely a Circle of Strength. Such a group, united in a sincere and dynamic quest for truth, generates a force of consciousness and knowledge that can manifest itself in a collective change of lifestyle, not on the scale of the whole planet, but on that of the group itself, which then has a subtle influence on the way we live.
On this basis, such circles of strength can indeed form a ‘knighthood’ in the sense that they are repositories of a consciousness and strength that draws its source from the silent order of the soul, the inner citadel, the inviolable Grail Castle. From this consciousness flows naturally an order of life that respects other men and the cosmos. Both man and woman become knights, souls leading their horses (their bodies) in the direction originally intended, and no longer riders asleep on their mounts who only ride their bellies.
The formation of such circles will be done in many ways and under many names, but it does not matter, since Chivalry is a brotherhood that sits above time and space. It simply awaits candidates who are willing to learn and serve in order to become accomplished humans in the Royal Art: knights. But to begin with, one must refuse the drowsiness of ordinary consciousness, one must wake up:
We speak here particularly to those who are young and still have their whole lives ahead of them. And we repeat to them, in case they have not yet understood: break the bonds with which you have been chained since your birth. Refuse to enter into the habit of this fallen order. Consider your vocation as a child of God. You will not be rich and you will live a poor life in the eyes of the inhabitants of the city of Basalt, but you will be very rich, fabulously rich, as inhabitants of the city of Christ. Workers are needed who have the courage to tear apart illusions through misery, pain and sorrow, in the midst of the land of the barbarians; builders who set out for the saving port. (Christianopolis, Jan van Rijckenborgh)