In the first part of this article, we observed a prevalent theme that is found in numerous legends worldwide featuring “magical swords.” One plausible interpretation could be that these myths are connected at least to some degree, possibly originating from the Iron Age.
Certainly, there existed a period when iron swords were scarce. In the region of Anatolia, the Hittites emerged as pioneers in iron craftsmanship, yet these items remained exclusively designated for royalty. Homer even asserts that iron held greater worth than gold.
In contrast, swords of the bronze age possessed a relatively short lifespan, prone to bending and breaking. Hence, the durable and unyielding nature of iron would naturally imbue it with a sense of mystical potency – a substance that would go on to become the essence of legendary tales.
Nevertheless, within the context of Indo-European mythology, whenever enigmatic narratives involving celestial heroes and divine intervention arise, the presence of astronomy is often closely intertwined.
The legend of King Arthur – an ancient astronomical allegory
The knights of the round table
In addition to Excalibur, the concept of the “round table” stands out as one of the most renowned aspects within the Arthurian legend. Initially comprised of twelve knights, although later renditions expanded this count to as many as 150, the symbolism of the “round table” conveys a sense of egalitarianism, as opposed to the conventional practice of assigning the most significant individual to the head of the table.
However, the numerical value of twelve and the circular configuration could also potentially allude to the twelve constellations present in the zodiac. This hypothesis gains further reinforcement from the Winchester Round Table.
Originating in the early 13th century, the Winchester Round Table holds historical importance. In 1522, Henry VII depicted himself in place of King Arthur. The table showcases twelve green and twelve white fields, possibly representing a full day of 24 hours – the twelve hours of daytime and the twelve hours of nighttime. This interpretation aligns with the Sun and Moon’s traversal through the zodiac’s twelve constellations.
King Arthur and the Bootes constellation
The origin of the name Arthur remains ambiguous. Many proposed etymologies link it to variations of the term signifying “bear,” such as the Celtic “arto” and the Welsh “arth.” Another theory suggests a connection with the Latin term Arcturus. Arcturus is the most brilliant star within the Bootes constellation. Given the proximity of this constellation to Ursa Major, known as the “big bear”, Bootes earned the ancients’ designation as the “guardian of the bear.”
Additionaly, King Arthur’s father, Pendragon, meaning “chief dragon,” has a connection to the Draco constellation, which represents a dragon and is located above Bootes. Below Bootes, there’s the Crater constellation, often linked to a cup or grail. This ties into an important aspect of the Arthurian legend, which has origins stretching from Christianity to ancient Greek myths, and even megalithic era.
Lady of the lake and the white swan – Virgo and Cygnus constellations
The Lady of the lake plays a pivotal role in the legend by bestowing Excalibur upon Arthur. However, medieval tales present conflicting details about this character. One version suggests she was Pendragon’s daughter and, therefore, Arthur’s sister. Another narrative portrays her as the offspring of Dionas (Dyonas), a name reminiscent of the Thracian deity Dionysus or the constellation Orion. This similarity could offer a clue to the potential Thracian origin of the myth.
In artistic depictions, the Lady of the Lake is frequently accompanied by a white swan, much like the constellation Virgo is associated with Cygnus, the swan. The ancients perceived this star group as a swan due to its position within the Milky Way, which resembles a celestial river (or a lake?) cascading toward the Scorpius constellation.
Lady of the lake as Virgo constellation
Numerous contradictions arise even in regard to her actual name. Different sources present variations such as Nimuë, Ninianne/Viviane, Nimanne, Niviene/ Vivienne, Nimiane/Niniame, Nymenche, Niniane, Niviana, Nymanne, Nynyane, Niniane, Ninieve, Nynyve/Nenyve…
Interestingly, many of these variations sound similar to the names of the river Neman, an important river flowing from Belarus to Lithuania. The variants of its name include Nioman, Nyoman, Nemunas, Neman, Niemen… We do know that in antiquity many ancient tribes inhabited Britain from this general area.
Conversely, the terms Ninieve and Nynyve bear resemblance to the ancient Assyrian city Nineveh. I understand that some readers might question this notion, and I could have easily omitted it from the article for the sake of readability and perceived credibility. Nevertheless, I find these connections immensely intriguing, particularly when considering the possibility of a shared ancient origin among these myths, described in the previous article.
Furthermore, alternative etymologies for these names are lacking. The ancient city of Nineveh, tracing its roots back to 3,000 BC, held dedication to the goddess Ishtar as its patron deity. The cuneiform representation of the city’s name was Ninâ – a depiction of a fish within a house, a clear allusion to water.
Lastly, certain renditions of the myth link the Lady of the Lake to Morgan le Fay. The name Morgan stems from the Brittonic “Mori-gena,” signifying “sea-born.” She held the dual roles of enchantress and weaving goddess, akin to the figure of Circe in the Odyssey. Intriguingly, her name shares similarities with the Christian name Mary, which also originates from the term “sea.” In a parallel vein, Aphrodite, the Greek incarnation of Ishtar, emerged from the sea. These symbols offer unmistakable clues pointing toward the Virgo constellation, a symbolic “house” for the planet Venus.
Carnwennan – the Pleiades
Arthur’s small dagger, Carnwennan, meant “little white hilt”. It is plausible that this name could be connected to the Pleiades star cluster, which some cultures envisioned as a small, white dagger.
Considering the Pleiades’ location on the opposite side of the sky, this notion aligns with the Vietnamese myth in which the central hero must construct his sword using two distinct components.
So where is the Excalibur?
At this point, you might be curious about the significance of this specific region of the sky within the Arthurian myth. The explanation is quite straightforward. Approximately two millennia BC, which coincides with the Iron Age, this portion of the night sky corresponded to the spring equinox. In ancient times, the spring equinox held paramount importance as it signaled the conclusion of winter and marked the cycle’s New Year.
To be more precise, in the Iron Age, the Sun’s rising backdrop during the spring months was the constellation Aries. Meanwhile, the night sky was introduced by the constellation Libra. As autumn arrived, the Sun transitioned to Libra, positioned diametrically opposite on the zodiac. The scales of Libra serve as a representation of the equinox, signifying the equilibrium between day and night.
However, it’s the significance of the spring equinox that truly matters for our narrative. As the Sun sets, Libra would emerge on the eastern horizon. Subsequently, it would ascend, joined by Scorpius, the subsequent constellation in the sequence. By around 9 PM, both of these constellations would become visible, as depicted in the image below (a screenshot captured from Stellarium, a freely available astronomical software).
From this point, these two constellations would continue their journey across the nocturnal expanse, eventually reaching the western horizon shortly before sunrise, approximately at 5 AM.
Here’s the key point: The Scorpius constellation looks like a hand. At sunset, it appears just above the daytime sky, resembling the Lady of the Lake’s hand giving Arthur the sword. At sunrise, it seems ready to dip below the horizon.
In this scenario, Excalibur could very well be the Libra constellation. True, the contemporary star patterns might not resemble scales. However, if we envision alternative lines that prompted the ancients to see Libra’s scales, the concept of a massive sword becomes quite conceivable (refer to the illustration of Libra above). In such a context, a parallel emerges as follows:
At sunrise, these constellations will tilt on the western horizon, resembling a hand casting away the sword. Following this, the sky transitions to its blue hue, akin to the surface of water that enveloped Excalibur.
Likewise, in the tale of Beowulf, he confronts Grendel’s mother within a cave. He succeeds in defeating her as daylight penetrates the cave. Subsequently, the sea takes on a reddish hue, possibly mirroring the crimson sky that accompanies sunrise.
From Camael to Camelot
King Arthur’s court was situated in Camelot. Camelot, a toponym with no clear etymology. Yet, in the Old Testament, an angel named Camael. wields a flaming sword, guarding the gates of heaven. Interestingly, Camael also holds a holy grail in one hand. Could the name Camelot possibly be connected to this figure?
Within the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Rome, an intriguing image unfolds. At the center, Christ is enthroned, while on the left stands the archangel Uriel, bearing a Sun-like shield symbolizing spring in Aries. On the opposing side, Zophiel, whose name derives from “zophos” (meaning darkness), clutches a Moon-like shield.
Beneath Zophiel, Camael is portrayed holding a grail and staff, deviating from the usual flaming sword imagery.
This depiction is an astronomical allegory, rooted in the Old Testament’s relevance primarily around two millennia BC. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the removal of the flaming sword from the Garden of Eden following Jesus’ resurrection symbolized humanity’s renewed access to Paradise.
In the context of astronomy, the equinox transitioned from Libra to Virgo, thereby elevating Virgin Mary’s (Virgo) significance in the narrative, and the removal of the flaming sword (Libra) from heaven’s gate.
Interestingly, the Arthurian myth remained aligned with the earlier pre-Christian storyline, focused on Libra instead of Virgo. Although King Arthur’s historical existence dates to the 5th century AD, the myth likely predates this period. As certain authors have suggested, its roots might trace back to Sarmatian mercenaries whom the Romans introduced to Britain. Alternatively, its origins could be more ancient, possibly connecting to the earliest Iron Age settlers.
In any case, it seems that the Arthurian myth is an echo of a much older tradition.
Formally, the European Iron Age commenced in the Aegean and Balkans during the twelfth century BC. Experts remain divided on whether it arrived from Anatolia or the Caucasus. Assyrian Nineveh was acquainted with iron by approximately 3,000 BC. When considering the parallels between Asian and European myths, the scale tips toward the Caucasus region. Consequently, the Scythians and Sarmatians emerge as potential agents responsible for propagating this influence.
Nonetheless, it’s conceivable that the Iron Age initially dawned in the Balkans, subsequently spreading to the Aegean through the Dorian invasion. On the Serbian archaeological site of Hisar Hill, two needles were discovered, dating to the 14th century BC. The fascinating thing about these needles is their structure. They are made from 98,86% pure iron, which cannot rust. This is an impossible feat, even by modern standards. The only object with a similar structure is the famous Iron pillar of Delhi.
A needle and a pilar, symbolically marking the borders of the world’s first Iron age culture… and perhaps also the cradle of the Arthurian myth.