Divine King


Today is poet Ian Young’s 70th birthday, and in his honor, I am posting one of his poems with a Lammas theme, somewhat against the grain of the season of the year.   Witches and Magicians, especially queer ones, need to read Ian’s poems.  I treasure his 1986 volume Sex Magick in which the poem below was published.  Not only are there many fascinating insights here into how Magick seeps into every fibre of one’s existence when one stops merely reading about it, but actually LIVES it; Ian’s poems also have a marvelous way of ensnaring the blurred, often contradictory and temporally shifting shoals of modern living.

The death of William Rufus is an important motif in the work of Margaret Murray, particularly her volume The Divine King in England (1954).  William’s death features notably in the novel by Katharine Kurtz, Lammas Night.  William’s death relates to a vital theme in the visionary writing of Robert Graves; the title of Victor Anderson’s poetry collection, Thorns of the Blood-rose (1970), refers to the death of the Divine King and Sacred Consort at the altar of his devotion to the Goddess.

In Ian’s poem, hints are very artfully given of how homoerotic male sex rites act as an Initiatory thrust in the sacred Men’s Mysteries of long ago.  There are hints, in this fragmentary lore, that the sacrifice on behalf of the Land can only be fulfilled when it is carried out in love, with intimations of an act of erotic worship between Priest and Chosen.  These are Mysteries, obviously, that were not confined to the Men’s cults.  But the eroticism plays out in a very special way when those involved are male.

A noteworthy detail Ian mentions is that the King bestows the arrows for his own sacrifice to his Beloved on the Day of Lammas under the Elder. Lady of the Elder, Mistress of the gifts of Life, Death, and Rebirth.

William Rufus

by Ian Young

(William II, King of England 1087-1100, the son of William the Conqueror, was killed by an arrow shot by Walter Tyrrel during a hunt.  The death has been variously attributed to a political assassination, a hunting accident and a lovers’ quarrel.   Evidence suggests it was part of a religious ritual.  An inscribed stone in the New Forest marks the spot where the last pagan king of England fell.)

They said my death was a mystery.
More than they knew.
When all my kingship is forgot,
still this stone stands, struck by the sun.
Sometimes the antic mind or body must be slain,
cut down to give a clearing to the light.
Mere man makes way for Lucifer.
After I fell, blood dripped to Winchester, they say,
and herbs and flowers burst from the loam.
Subject of this other realm, I have
no memory of it, only the sudden
pain of your wound
in a wood teeming with wild pigs,
of moving airward in a bleeding fall.
A ritual death is unlike any other.

You knew an old world had to die,
the true religion of the sun
fall ere it rise.
“The abominable crime not to be mentioned
among Christians” was a devotion for me, infidel
son of the Bastard, grandson of the Devil.
It was they who nailed his goat-head to a tree.
And if they cannot understand God,
can they fathom a mere king?

You were my only priest, Walter,
sent to redeem me.
Bound by my blasphemies, I scarcely knew
what worship we gave.
Nor could I ever give you all I would.
I changed you and was changed.
The holy face of Lucca does not change.
So in my dream: the temple of the stars
where the Druid church once stood.
Trees hung with Graecian tapestries
in seven semicircles round an altar
bore a stag
transforming to the bare body of a man,
your body.
“Henceforth thou shalt eat of me no more,”
you said, and turned to air.

I was the stag slaughtered, the lamb
led to the slaughter
after the breeding is done.
Did I command you then?
It seems not, though from my lips
I heard such words as chilled the blood,
spoken clear, or spoken as in jest–
and felt your real self send its shaft through me.

Mine the arrows given you at Lammas
under the elder,
the last sacrament of flowers and leaves.
My restlessness was a weakness of the flesh,
shifting and mumbling in the chapel,
not trying to escape.
And did I turn and call,
seeing your hand tremble:
“Shoot! by the holy face of Lucca!”
Loosed and fled.

So is the red king gone where the red sun goes.
I entered a bright world from a world obscure.
The sky transfused by blood, the wood of death
brought forth a one-eared pig,
squealing and rank.
The world went blank and only I remain, as air
and whispers yet remain
when no one hears.
The news was brought Anselm by an angel, straightaway.
All else is rumour.

Though they say who led a king to his kingdom
crowned him in blood, it matters not.
You were the one who knew.
I merely loved and blundered
into a thorn-wood on a holy day.
When all is done
a ritual death is a death like any other.
The consecrated ground denied me is ploughed under.
Still my stone stands.
They come who know of me
and honour what they can’t yet see,
as I was blind to thee.

Fire and soil we were though, Walter.
Water and air we were,
spirit and blood.
And the blood of the stag
and the blood of the sun
as the arrow lifted me
were one.

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