It always puzzled me why there was a dream scene in Arthurian mythology where a sleeping King Arthur sees a dragon defeat a bear in the sky. This conflict happens just before Arthur arrives at Mont St Michel in Northern France to defeat a monster. The text of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain attempts to give two explanations but provides no final resolution.
King Arthur’s name is of course directly related to these two beasts as he is Arthur Pen Dragon which means roughly translated from Welsh ‘the bear man head dragon’.
I pondered on this at length. Arthurian romances contain many hidden mysteries which had to be hidden ‘in plain sight’ in the stories because of the nature of medieval religious suppression.
The only reference I could come up with for a bear and a dragon being locked together is in the circumpolar region of the stars.
Ursa Major, Minor and Draco are all part of the circumpolar constellations.
With the precesion of the equinoxes Thuban, a star in Draco, was the pole star in 3000 BC and Polaris is the pole star now.
Polaris is at the tip of Ursa Minor’s tail and it has been the pole star for the last 1000 years and will be closest to the true pole in 2095.
The precesion of the equinoxes causes the pole star to change over the Great Year, a cycle of c.25800 years, as the planet wobbles on its journey around the sun. This delivers us into a new epoch influence every 2000 years or so with Aquarius now following on from Pisces. Ursa Major rotates slowly around the pole and Draco is in the center of the circle in the sky which moves the least, drawn by the wobble of the earth.
To add to the mystery Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote in the same book about a college of two hundred learned men at Arthur’s court watching the skies for portents of the future. Astrology was clearly key to the Arthurian story. Knowledge of the precesion of the equinoxes and the changing pole star over time is demonstrated in ancient zodiacs and writings.
The Egyptians appear to have known of it as evidenced at Dendera where they had a number of zodiacs. There are linear representations of the constellations but the most famous zodiac mixes Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek depictions of the stars and planets in a circular form depicting the bowl of the night sky with a spiral into the circumpolar stars at the center.
This dream works on a number of levels but to provide one possible explanation eventually Thuban will once again replace Polaris as the pole star, thus the dragon will overcome the bear.
Many times we are astonished by ancient knowledge which gets confirmed by modern scientific discovery.
Let us look a little deeper into the circumpolar region with a quote from Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology originally written in 1858.
King Arthur’s Round Table was an order of knights with a defined purpose and principles which met on equal terms around a circular table. It inspired the creation of the Order of the Garter in the 14th century by Edward III.
The pole star itself is a star of direction and when looked at from the standpoint of the earth it appears to remain a still core around which the other stars revolve. This is how the character of Arthur develops in the Arthurian Romances. He joins the action less in the adventures as the Romantic fiction developed and he represents a fixed point of purpose and principle.
Arthur moves from being the chief action hero to becoming a fixed government beyond reproach and a model of virtue.
Tennyson articulates this sentiment about Arthur in his poem Guinevere when he says ‘we must needs love the highest when we see it’.
The ‘nights’ of the Round Table can be construed as the twelve signs of the zodiac with Arthur as the sun or pole star in the centre .Just as the labours of Hercules depicted the constellations so Arthur’s knights can be seen to depict the signs of the zodiac.
The Great Bear is also Arthur’s wain (oxen drawn cart) or chariot. Interestingly it is also related to St Michael whose island in Northern France Arthur was going towards when he had the dream. Nearby is Lyra which is Arthur’s Lyre.
In Bootes the star Arcturus is seen as Arthur, the bear driver. One can also find a Grail set in the skies further from this circumpolar region as the constellation Crater.
Many of these mythological associations stretch back into antiquity and across time zones.
The Great Bear was also known as the chariot of Osiris and in Dendera this constellation is depicted as an ox thigh in the center with a jackal representing Ursa Minor.
The pole star gives us a point of reference. It represents the core of creation to us on this planet but that is a perception only. We are far out on a limb of our galaxy and every star is moving albeit at different speeds, some moving towards us and some moving away from us.
The Universe is a vast arena of rotating bodies and influences which exchange light and energy.
Polaris represents the fixed principles and core of a life around which all other aspects revolve.
It is the star of navigation, it points to the important things in life above mundane immateriality.
The seeker, by meditating on purpose and direction related to this star can center themselves and build a principled inner core.
Depending on the person these principles can include participating in the evolutionary journey of life by choice and concentrating oneself into a committed core or order by finding others of kind.
After all real stars are not made in Hollywood they are created from clouds of cosmic star dust which condense and then when sufficient intensity is reached they become illuminated. By analogy humans become enlightened and shine brightly when their core is built and aligned to universal purpose and service. Uni-verse anagrams to serve- uni (one deity) and it is the opposite of being self-serving.
King Arthur’s tales are full of fighting giants and monsters and upholding truth justice and virtues which have helped shape the journey of humanity to today and will continue to do so in the future.
Like the pole star, which has been and will be, King Arthur is the ‘Once and Future King’. Like him we can chose to make our lives count and to be gardeners on this planet by weeding out the vices and planting the virtues that will bear fruit for all humanity as the ages change and we enter a new era.