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Coffee & Wisdom 02.50: Dancing in the Chapel Perilous Part 1

David Breeden is speaking all week about the psychological images that become embedded in talking about how the mind works..


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Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a historically humanist congregation. And this is coffee and Wisdom. We’re starting a new theme this week called Dancing in the Chapel Perilous. What is that? This is a series of images that occur in literature, but they become psychological images that are then in some way embedded in talking about how the human mind works. The chapel perilous being one of the older ones that occurs back in the fourteen hundreds. So we’ll take a peek at that first. Here’s something you can find on the Internet. Lewis says, by my chapel, perilous insurance it insures against unsightly psychic scars, character armoring, reality tunnels, superfluity, involuntary free association, fraudulent insurance and excessive force of Feyenoord. Should give you a clue. Those of you who were joining in when I was talking about religions that are maybe kind of joking and there is one called Scorpion ism and indeed for does occur in discourse pianism. A final word is a word that makes you forget that you’ve ever seen that word. So something is up with this, but we’ll have to wait to see where it goes. But we do have a definition of what Chappell perilous means. As a matter of fact, Chappell Peerless is an occult term, referring to a psychological state in which an individual cannot be certain whether they have been aided or hindered by some force outside the realm of the natural world, or whether what happened to be appeared to be supernatural inference was a product of their own vivid imagination.

So it’s a moment at which we reached this point and say, wait a minute, was that supernatural or is that just a product of my own imagination? And so you can see how the the the Chappell idea could be wrapped up in some other kinds of ideas that then become all, you know, Dan Brown ish in some way. But we’ll have to wait and see about that. But, you know, there we got all this occult stuff going on and then there Sir Lancelot and the witch Healthways. That doesn’t look very scary, does it? And of course, the chapel perilous is part of the Grail legend, the Holy Grail. That’s not scary and that’s not a cult. Or is it? And that’s what we need to look at this week. Now, chapel, perilous as a term, first appears in Lammert Darter, written and compiled by Mr. Thomas Mallory. And it was published by London’s first printer, William Caxton, in fourteen eighty five. Did the image exist in earlier manuscripts? We really don’t know. Thomas Mallory, the author, is very upfront about the fact that he is looking at manuscripts that came out of older traditions, most of them from France.

And so it could be that the chapel perilous exists somewhere else. And he did get it. But we don’t know that because we don’t know any other sources that still exist, although they may have been around in fourteen eighty five. Now, who was there, Thomas Mallory? There are several candidates for him. There were several Sir Thomas Mallory’s living at that time, but the most likely candidate is a guy who lived from fourteen fifteen to fourteen seventy one. So right in that time period he fought in both on both sides of the War of the Roses and he was imprisoned at Newgate Prison in London. Therefore, we know that this author is writing out of the prison. He says so Caxton says so. So this is probably the guy, although we really don’t know. He was a member of parliament at one time, again, going back and forth during this civil war that’s going on. And this is the height of what we think of as knight in shining armor. The suits of armor had become what we think of in terms of the cliche by this time period. So it could be this is the guy Mallory originally titled his work, The Whole Book of King Arthur and his Noble Knights of the Round Table. But Caxton didn’t like that title and he changed it to the death of Arthur Arthur.

It was a compilation, apparently, of French and. English theory entails some things are definitely out of manuscripts that still exist, other things are not here. We have a contemporary illumination from the time. And as you see, we’ve got these very good Knights of the Round Table circling around this glowing. Yeah. What is it? Yes. This magical instrument that’s going to become very much a part of the Arthurian legends. Well, the book was a smashing success in its time. The Great Hall of Winchester Castle in England today and in the city of Winchester. If you look down the hall there, you will see this big round thing on the wall. Here’s a close up of it. This is the King Arthur’s table top. Oh, no, it’s not. It’s a fake from the late 13 hundreds. So that’s how popular it was. We have fake to the round table all the way back to the publication of the book, Sir How Sir Lancelot came to the Chapel Palace and got him there. A dead corpse of a dead corpse. A piece of the cloth and a sword is the chapter in The More Arthur that does contain this particular little bit. It’s not very big. And as you will see, Mallory was very much an understated writer. And there’s a lot of argument.

Was this guy even any good? Is he just taking these things and throwing them on the page, or is this really something of a masterful work? That’s highly debatable, but we have a chapter and as you see, the chapter heading tells us exactly what’s going to go on. Spoiler alert from the very beginning of the chapter. No real tension going on there. But this is from Arthur. The spelling has been updated, but the language as it was being used to this is late middle English going into modern English. So it sounds a bit like Shakespeare, but it’s a little bit earlier than that. Right. So Sir Lancelot departed, and when he came into the chapel, perilous, he alighted down in Tigist Horse onto a little gate. And as soon as he was within the churchyard, he saw on the front of the chapel, Mittie Fair, Rich Shields turned up down and many of the Sheels Lancelot had seen Knights beer beforehand. This is very scary. We ride up to this chapel and by golly, the shields are turned upside down. That means that the knights who owned them have been killed in combat. And this is a collection of trophies of the knights that have been killed by somebody around this chapel.

With that, he saw by him there stand a thirty great knights, more by a yard than any man that ever he had seen. And all those grinned at Sir Lancelot. And when he saw their countenance, he dreaded him saw and so put his shield up for him and took his sword ready and his hand ready to battle. And they were all armed in black harness, ready with their shields and their swords drawn. And when Sir Lancelot would have gone throughout them, they scattered on every side of him and gave him the way. And there with he waxed all bold and entered into the chapel. And then he saw no light but a dim lamp burning. And then was he aware of a corpse held on a cloth of silk? Again, this could be a very dramatic moment in the story, but it’s really not here he does. He faces down 30 dead nice and and boldly goes to fight them. But it’s really very, very understated. And this is the this is the way that Mallory tells the story. Sir Lancelot stooped down and cut a piece a yard, then any man that average seat. So we see the illustration here on the right.

This is from a Victorian era retelling of the story. This becomes very, very popular. It’s all the way down to our own time. Then Sir Lancelot stooped down and cut a piece away of that cloth, and then it fared under him as the earth had quaked a little. So there’s an earthquake, by golly, there with all he feared. And then he saw a fierce sword live by the dead knight and that he got in his hand and hired him out of the chapel. So he takes a piece of the cloth. This is his quest. And then he takes a sword and gets out of there and done as ever. He was in the chapel yard all the night, spake to him with a grimly voice and said, Night, Sir Lancelot, lay that sword from the or else thou shalt die, whether that I live or die, said Sir Lancelot, with no great word yet yet again. Therefore, fight for it and list again. We don’t have the contemporary way that we do quotations and that can be very disturbing. If you’re accustomed to seeing that quotation marks as explained, who’s talking along the way or paragraph markers to tell us who’s talking. You get accustomed to it after you’ve read this for for a while, however.

So the knights that are outside the dead ones didn’t say, lose that sword, you’re going to be dead if you don’t. But Sir Lancelot says, you know, I’m not listening to you guys. You’re dead then. Right? So he passed throughout them and beyond the chapel yard there. Met him, a fair damsel. OK, how many fair damsels are we going to meet? And said Sir Lancelot, the fair damsel says, Sir Sir Lancelot, leave that sword behind the or thou will die for it. I leave it not, said Sir Lancelot, for no treaties. That would be the word in treaties that later on in English. No, said she. And thou just leave that sword, Queen Guinevere, should thou never see. So as soon as he says no, she says, Oh well, guess what. If you had said yes, you would never have seen the Queen again. Again, no build up. But this just happens then. Were I a fool and I would leave the sword said absolutely I would be a fool if I left this sword. Now, Gentle Knight, said the damsel, I require the to kiss me. But once nay said Sir Lancelot that God be forgiven for bed. Well, sir, said she, and thou hast kissed me. Thy life days have been done. You’d be dead by now. But now, alas, she said, I have lost all my labor, for I are dead. This chapel for the sake and for Sir Quain, Sir Dwayne being the other shining knight of the round table.

Sir McGuane. I have his his the the picture that appears on his helmet and on his shield. He is the night of Pentecost that also appears in tarot cards. That was his sign and that’s what kept him safe from all kinds of spells as he fought various kinds of demons and such. And once I had Segway within me and at that time he fought with that night that lieth there dead in yonder chapel, Sir Gilbert the bastard. And at that time he spoke the left hand off, Sir Gilbert, the bastard and Sir Lancelot. Now I tell them I have loved the the seven year, but there may no woman have. They love but Queen Guinevere but Sylhet that I may not rejoice thee to have the body alive. I have kept no more joy in this world, but they have thy body dead. So. So the witch has fallen and we will find out very soon who she is, had fell in love with them and laid this kind of trap to get him. Then another fair damsel had asked him to go do this to heal her brother. And the plot thickens as we go along. And as we know, Queen Guinevere figures into other of the Assyrian legends. They later have an adulterous affair that does destroy a fair Kamelot.

So that’s part of of the of the plot that’s going on here. Mallory may have been the first to conflate these different legends into some kind of a whole. We really don’t know that because, again, many of the French originals have probably disappeared then would I have blamed it and. Served it and so have I have kept it my life days and daily, I should have clipped the and kissed the this is again the witch speaking or the sorcerous clipped is an older English word that means hug or clipped. But we still use the word clip, a kind of a tweezer effect here and kiss the despite of Queen Guinevere. If you’d gone along with me, you say, well said Sir Lancelot. Hey Sue Preserve from your subtle crafts and wherewithal, he took his horse and so departed from her. And as the book says, when Sir Lancelot was departed, she took such sorrow that she died within a fortnight and her name was Helo’s the Sorceress. We don’t even learn who it was until after the story has been told. A couple of things that are going on here. As the books say, it is a motif within the writing of Thomas Mallory. He’s not claiming to write. This is a matter of fact. In the fourteen hundreds, Chaucer did the same thing. It’s bad for him to be making stuff up.

You want it to be actually based on something that’s older so that there is some authority to it do notice fourteen night this. This becomes fortnight in British English did not come to the with the settlers into the US and we no longer use the term fourteen night two weeks in other words. And her name was Helo’s the Sorceress. And there is a cover from one of the books of Dorotka saying goodbye to that magical sword as it sinks back into the lake much later in the book. But we have several motifs going on here that do become these ideas for how the human mind works. The chapel perilous. It will get more to that tomorrow as it goes into this occult idea of this dangerous crossroads where we have to make a decision and we don’t really know if it’s haunted, supernatural, our own minds playing tricks on us in that kind of thing. This often happens within our theory and legends as we go along. Thanks a lot for joining in today. And this week we will have Bibles and beer at seven pm on Wednesday evening. This week will have Joseph the Trickster in which we go on to look at more of the story of Joseph in Egypt. Thanks for listening. And we’ll be back with some more motifs and dancing in the Chapel Palace tomorrow. Thank you.

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