Caledfwlch: The Illusion of the Round Table and the Rule of the Sword

I’ve been noticing signs that the UK’s gearing up for war for a while. First Preston’s City Deal and the expansion of the ‘Enterprise Zones’ at BAE Systems Warton and Samlesbury whose primary function is the manufacture of military aircraft. Then a friend who’s job-hunting notices the increase in defence jobs. Then Trident is renewed and Theresa May announces she’s prepared to authorise a strike that will kill 100,000 people.

These frightening insights have coincided with my research into distant wars; Arthur’s mythic assault on Annwn and semi-mythic defence of Britain from the Anglo-Saxons. In the earliest stories, Arthur wields a sword named Caledfwlch, ‘Breach of Battle’, which is engraved with two golden fire-breathing serpents and so terrible no-one can look upon it.

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Later it is known as Excalibur, ‘Cut-Steel’ and either drawn from a stone or gifted to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake.

Arthur reputedly united Britain under ‘One King, One God, One Law’ through military prowess. This ideal has never faded. At the heart of Arthurian-style hegemony is the rule of the sword, thinly disguised by the illusion of the round table. Likewise with liberal democracy.

In his recent article, ‘The State of Violence’, Rhyd Wildermuth shows how the rule of the liberal democratic state is sanctioned by violence in the name of the people, whose consent is complicit in its actions. The consequence of living in a liberal democracy is that those who can manipulate the majority always win and dissenting voices are not heard.

Millions of people turned out to protest against the Iraq war yet the UK and US governments still went ahead. In spite of protests across the UK (which haven’t received much media coverage) and the delivery of bundles of anti-Trident petitions to the Ministry of Defence, 472 politicians voted for Trident’s renewal and only 117 against.

The Iraq war was founded on lies. I recently read a chilling article by John Pilger which highlights Obama’s hypocrisy in pledging to make ‘the world free of nuclear weapons’ when his administration has built more nuclear weapons, warheads, delivery systems and factories, and his spending on nuclear warheads is higher than under any president. ‘It was all fake. He was lying.’

‘In the last eighteen months, the greatest build-up of military forces since World War Two — led by the United States — is taking place along Russia’s western frontier’ and ‘The United States is encircling China with a network of bases, with ballistic missiles, battle groups, nuclear-armed bombers.’ ‘A world war has begun.’

The UK’s Trident II D-5 missiles are built by Lockheed Martin in the US. The companies involved in the manufacture of our warheads and submarines (including BAE Systems, Babcox and Wilcox and Rolls Royce) are all financed by UK multinational banks, particularly Barclays and HSBC, who also finance Russia’s Dolgorukiy nuclear submarines(!).

Steve Topple says, ‘UK multinational banks are playing one big game of “Battleships”, funding both UK and Russian nuclear weapons programmes.’ ‘15% of sitting members’ of the House of Lords ‘are directors of, or shareholders in, companies that are either directly contracted to the Trident programme or invest in it.’ Not only has the next world war begun, but Arthur and the knights of the round table are ‘laughing all the way to the bank’.

Pilger laments the absence of ‘the great tradition of popular direct action, unfettered to parties’, ‘the courage, imagination and commitment required to begin the long journey to a better, just and peaceful world’ and ‘dissidents in art, film, the theatre, literature’ and asks  ‘Where are those who will shatter the silence?’

As far as I can see, people are speaking out yet our voices remain unheard because of the illusions cast by the knights of the round table to disguise the rule of the sword. How do we, the powerless, the penniless, the ill-informed, stand up to the rich, to media tycoons, to the wielders of serpent-headed swords which could kill 100,000 people in one fiery breath?

My opinion is that the sword is the heart of the problem and violence itself cannot be fought with violence. Over the past year, I’ve been disturbed to see other polytheists suggesting we invoke the gods and spirits to bring down Daesh and other political figures. For me militant paganism is no better than militant Islam or militant liberalism.

What alternatives are left? Is there some other way to convince the Arthurs of thisworld to return their weapons to the Lady of the Lake? Some display of beauty or siren song? Is there a deeper magic by which we can wrest from Arthur’s hands Caledfwlch, the sword too terrible to behold, before the flame-breathing serpents destroy the world?

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Martin Mere, Lancashire, one of many sites in the UK associated with the Lady of the Lake
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4 thoughts on “Caledfwlch: The Illusion of the Round Table and the Rule of the Sword

  1. It is so easy to get really down about all our industrial military complex liars and supposed leaders…..I have had a few bad days recently about the state of the world, but we must keep our own inner lights brightly lit….And keep working the deepest, most compassionate magic that we can. Love…..

  2. Yes, we have every right to be worried, but, for me, this reads as “business as usual”. I see the same violence and threat level as ever. Having lived through much of the Cold War, I was terrified of of “accidental” and deliberate nuclear war. But the terror levels have remained high, they just shift borders, targets and focus. The bullshit “reasons” are just that, propaganda, which shifts according to the need of those in power and the situation. My view has become that it is the only way that the systems we have can “survive”. Force. Some of it subtle, some not. My focus is on finding ancestors’ tales, people who (as Howard Zinn put it, behave(ed) “magnificently”). That helps me not be swallowed into paralysis. Most days anyway, sometimes I just need to grieve…

  3. I recall and article in the Grauniad a couple of years ago that pointed out that Britain had been ‘at war’, i.e involved in armed conflict, somewhere in the globe, every year between 1914 and 2014. A lot of effort goes into making us forget. ‘We’ are involved in the war in Syria at the moment, of course.

    So, yes, its important that we process the distress we feel about it, make our voices heard, and to support those resisting militarisation in various ways.

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