Breath of the Heart

"Breath of the Heart: how mythology and folklore instruct our quest for environmental justice," by C.F. Lapinel


As a young boy, I remember watching John Boorman's Excalibur. For me, the most arresting scene was when King Arthur, restored by the Holy Grail, rode forth, heading a company of knights. The swelling notes of Carl Orff's O Fortuna in the background, the land blossomed beneath the knights' horses' hooves. The scene moved me to tears. I instantly had a wild desire to do something, anything, that could bring goodness to the world. Goodness. Now, as an adult, I barely feel what that word means sometimes. In my pre-teen youth, though I didn't understand the symbolic language of this scene, I understood on some native level its meaning. Even if I hadn’t been so immersed in the strange and mystical realms of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and The Arabian Nights, I would have recognized it. It’s universal. It’s about the resurrection, restoration, and restitution of all things lost in the hot forge of time. In short, faith in the cosmic balance. A necessary belief at the core of every being with a lust for survival. This is the breath of the heart.


Now, King Arthur's legend might seem a strange point of entry for a blog dedicated to our contemporary environmental woes. What’s this to do with environmental justice, much less our most basic ecological concerns? Arthuriana is packed, however, with motifs of fertility, the cycle of life and death, and the sanctity of Earth. Throughout its varied works, we see an ongoing relationship between the protagonists' vitality and the land's bounty. I hope that this blog will cast light on how mythology and folklore, Arthuriana, in particular, can offer wisdom and guidance in our times as we struggle to restore the world's balance.

Like every other creature we share Earth with, we humans are centrally, instinctively so, focused on survival. Everything else we do is ancillary to this instinct. The fears and hopes that accompany this drive to survive are etched so vividly in our collective consciousness it's easy to understand how they embedded themselves in our artistic expressions. What's surprising, however, is the difference between how high-brow art and popular art address this. Where high-brow art will obfuscate such themes with enigmatic symbols (often legitimizing hierarchical power), popular art possesses a more visceral, democratic flavor. And I will show how this affects the re-tellings of King Arthur's legend.

I also hope to show how an appreciation for the origin and evolution of the legend can grant insight into why it persists to the present day.


To start this journey, I will use the story of Balin, the Knight of Two Swords. His is the Dolorous Stroke storyline, which sets in motion events leading to the Quest for the Grail. And I will reference the works of Jessie Weston and Joseph Campbell, among others. I don’t claim any expertise in any of this. Consider this blog, more than anything else, as an exploration, a work in progress. I’m looking for discoveries, not answers. An attitude we’d all do well to adopt when charting unknown, interior territories. Beware, for here dwells the breath of the heart.

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