My son recently turned eight and I decided it was time to knight him. No, seriously. So much of the studying of culture and mythology that I’ve been immersed in has brought the deep loss of rites of passage to my attention. With so much early developmental mind mapping coming from technology and television, I’m doing as much as I can to introduce ancient and classical myths orally and experientially. I would like birthdays in my family to be symbolically marked by more than a stack of material gifts. This year, largely inspired by my own personal commitment to re-education in myth and meaning, I broke tradition to initiate a new tradition.
To be clear, I myself am not a knight of any official capacity whatsoever. Not many are after all. So, what made me feel able to perform such a ceremony? Well, I’m his damn father for starters. Secondly, I realized on the day, if not me, who else? The answer was obvious. The inspiration was sudden and came on the back of a week of my own contemplation of the loss of Rite of Passage rituals in our contemporary culture.
This largely unnoticed phenomenon struck me as simply unacceptable and I sought the best remedy as I could come up with on short notice. The circumstances that brought about this mode of thinking started with a viewing of the 1981 (the year of my birth) film, Excalibur. The fantastical Hollywood rendition of the classic King Arthur story served as a lightning rod for my own remembrance of youth and the necessity of heroic myths. Without knowing from where or how they came to me, the Arthurian legends reemerged from a deep recess of my imagination. Not having considered him in decades, there he was again, like an old friend.
My head began swimming through what it all meant. After a refresher of the outline of Arthur’s life and his symbolic tales, the concept of the knight archetype surfaced as key to his meaning. The resonance of the Arthur legends magnify with the presence of the noble Knights of the Roundtable. Here we have not merely the individualistic themes of strength, bravery and honesty but the collective commitments to brotherhood, honor and loyalty.
There was an urgent call to reset the principles of the chivalrous knight back into my own life. Not so much that these codes had no base in my life, but more to identify which ones held the firmest and which needed further crafting. I saw that in my own study of the Mystery School traditions of old as well as my physical dedication to the martial arts, the principles of the knights were not far from my day-to-day life.
At the point of identifying with the knight, this invaluable tool of rekindling strong symbols and archetypes as a source of motivation, charged forth. We all are instructed to some degree by an inherited set of values and morals to live by. But words are just words. When expressed in the most visually dramatic form conceivable, words spring into life. I think of this as embodiment. When words are grafted onto actions in the world, be they in the manifest world or the world of imagination, this is where inspiration finds it’s footing. When ethical principles speak to us through the deeds of the hero, visualization and mirroring can do their transformative work.
The instructive lessons encoded into the hero tales of every culture serve a critical purpose in animating the minds of the young and impressionable with active illustrations of what it looks like to live by principle. Heroes are called into action, sometimes willingly, other times, unwillingly. But act they do, and by embodying bravery, determination and honor, they achieve their mythic status.
It appears that these tales have been with us since the dawn of civilization. Instead of boring lectures filled with “must” and “shall not,” someone got the bright idea to occult these teachings into super-hero stories. Carl Jung would hold that this impulse is born out of the Collective Unconscious. According to his theory, we are all born with encoded archetypes – in this case, the hero. Because this figure already exists within us, it’s only a matter of activating its symbolism through words and images.
“The archetype — let us never forget this — is a psychic organ present in all of us. A bad explanation means a correspondingly bad attitude toward this organ, which may thus be injured. But the ultimate sufferer is the bad interpreter himself.” ― Carl Jung, The Psychology of the Child Archetype
Over time, the figure of the archetype is reborn and outfitted to suit the day at hand. Convinced as I am of the importance of continuing to revitalize these vessels of truth, I began wondering who today’s heroes are. Multi-million dollar pro-athletes? Spoiled and extravagant pop culture stars? Computer generated video game characters? With the increased psychological complexity and angst of Hollywood renditions of classic comic book characters, I’m still left looking back for a purer standard.
More troubling than the subjective suitability of contemporary examples of nobility in action, was the utter lack of meaningful symbolic ceremonies. Speaking as an American, I can say that we are a culture poor in powerful Rites of Passage. I’m sorry to say Sweet Sixteen birthdays and the first drink of alcohol fail to live up to my idea of an inspired demarcation. High school and college graduations are events to be endured with boredom. What else is there? A hazing given in a Fraternity or Sorority? The thought of my upbringing and the future of my children’s suddenly became depressing. Sometimes it takes a negative to motivate a positive.
With a little bit of heroic thinking, I realized there’s something I could do to fill the void. If I want my son to have rituals for marking his growth and development into manhood, it was up to me to create them. To resurrect the image of the knight out of the distant past, obscured by a culture of superficiality and consumerism, I had to step forward and take up my rightful duty. As King Arthur says in Le Morte d’Arthur
“This is the oath of a Knight of King Arthur’s Round Table and should be for all of us to take to heart. I will develop my life for the greater good. I will place character above riches, and concern for others above personal wealth, I will never boast, but cherish humility instead, I will speak the truth at all times, and forever keep my word, I will defend those who cannot defend themselves, I will honor and respect women, and refute sexism in all its guises, I will uphold justice by being fair to all, I will be faithful in love and loyal in friendship, I will abhor scandals and gossip-neither partake nor delight in them, I will be generous to the poor and to those who need help, I will forgive when asked, that my own mistakes will be forgiven, I will live my life with courtesy and honor from this day forward.”
For further study of the knight, a thorough consultation of the Tarot brings nearly every aspect of the persona to bear. Anyone with a basic knowledge of the symbolic cards would be familiar with the Royal cards associated with each of the four suits. The Knight cards signify energetic action, freedom and fiery purpose. The sons of the Kings and Queens, and the older sibling to the Pages, the Knights have been prepared well and are expected to seek out their destiny and claim it. Vivien Ní Dhuinn says at Truly Teach me Tarot site:
“The Four Knights represent exuberance, the first taste of power, real freedom and the ultimate defining stage of the young to mid adult years of the CourtCards. Their energy is masculine (females can also be represented by a Knight) excitable, infectious and outward. Full of ideas and promise, TheKnights are determined to make their mark. However, they are just finding their way in the world and are prone to making mistakes.”
My intent wasn’t to send my son out into the world to slay dragons at this stage but more so to initiate a role-playing towards future knighthood. And so, with a few simple props on hand, I constructed a simple knighting ritual. In the ceremonies of old, the initiate wore white to symbolize their innocence and purity. At the time there was nothing better than his karate gi, white for the exact same reason. I too, dressed in my own karate uniform. Because I have my own spiritual rituals and commitments, an altar was already dressed for the occasion. Also to my luck was the availability of historical oaths of knighthood, easily found on the Internet. With my references, I wrote up what I felt would be an appropriate oath for an eight-year-old to understand.
It goes without saying that a proper knighting ceremony requires a sacred sword to tap the shoulders of the boy, officially dubbing him as a knight in training. While not a full-length sword, I used a long knife that adequately fulfilled our purposes. With the addition of sage for a simple purification, I had everything I needed to carry out my vision.
The timely urgency to mark this birthday made all the more sense when my research turned up the fact that back in the day, the making of a true knight happened in three stages. The first occurred at the age of seven or eight and was coined the Page phase. This initial stage was meant to instill the fundamental elements of obedience and courtesy, laying the groundwork for further instruction.
The second stage would have been marked between the ages of 12 and 14, sending the adolescent into the phase of the Squire. This period could be compared to an apprenticeship, in which the trainee was required to take on more responsibility, like care of the knight’s weapons and observance of other tasks. If the acolyte had proven themselves competent and dutiful by the age of 21, they became eligible for the conferring of full Knighthood.
The biggest obstacle I faced was to get my precocious son to agree to actually participate in this odd thing I sprung on him out of nowhere. At eight, his trust in his father was still fairly intact and he very curiously agreed. The production itself took no more than five or six minutes. Considering my lack of experience in the matter, I was satisfied with simply having accomplished the task.
How much he understood the event or what if any impact it had on him, I can’t claim to know. Having previously involved him in the Boy Scouts as well as karate training, the concepts we talked about were not totally foreign to him. If nothing else I reinforced ideals in a new, creative way. The most important thing, for me, if not for him, was that it was a personal moment for only the two of us. I got to own a moment and take personal responsibility for setting the standard and example of what knighthood was all about.
In a society of increasingly absent fathers and a disregard for the ancient mystery teachings, I took an oath towards the achievement of knighthood on that day right along with him. The time to reignite the guiding myths of old is now. The place to look for permission to do so, is within each and every one of us. The call to adventure is our birthright – may our bravery not fail us.