“Gawain set out anew / toward the court his course is bent / and the knight all green in hue / wheresoever he wished, he went” — Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 2475-9.
As of late I’ve become extremely interested in the legends of the Green Man as its appeared throughout the world, especially in Islam (e.g., al-Khidr) and the Christian West (e.g., the Green Knight). The motivations are as much personal and spiritual as they are intellectual: recent inner events have been the primary inspiration, but I can recall an interest as long back as childhood, when my mother first showed me images of the vine-covered face that lurked in church portals, and from adolescence, when I first listened to Type-O-Negative’s 1996 song, “Green Man” while camping in the Adirondacks.
On the Aer Lingus flight from New York back to Brussels I cracked open Marie Borroff’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a favorite from secondary school that for too long has sat forlorn on my bookshelf. As a teenager I was impressed by its modernesquity, especially the way in which the Pearl Poet, presaging Holden Caulfield, tears down the noble Gawain as a phony. As an adult, however, I experienced it as a far more complex and subtle tale; yes, the poet enjoys cutting his subject down to size, but he does so to achieve so much more.
So, I discovered it to be an appropriate read at this juncture in my life, and not only for the superficial reasons that it’s a New Year’s tale and that my airplane was painted Gaelic green. Although from what I know of his character I’m far from a modern Gawain, nevertheless his quest resonated with me, including the mode of his revelations — fundamentally very similar to Moses in the Qur’anic tale — and, most of all, his resultant frustrations with himself.
It has inspired me to finally listen to Paul’s perennial advice that I should make a proper journal of all my spiritual experiences, if for no other purpose than as a kind of “self-science project”, namely, to discern any useful patterns and meanings. This decision is also an attempt to heed the recent advise of another friend to “go in circles” and to dig down deep to underlying unities and drink of the hidden river.
But whatever — I need no other reason than this: I am by nature a constant experimenter, a tinkerer of the self. Ironically, right now I need to be more Merlin than Gawain, the alchemist I actually am rather than the quester I have, as of late, idealized myself to be and have so long desired to become. Let’s wander in the dark woods of the metaxu and see what strange herbs I find…