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Sir Lancelot's Path to Self-Discovery

Sir Lancelot was raised as a child by the mysterious Lady of the Lake in her hidden palace. Growing up, he was taught all the skills of knighthood by the best teachers in the world.
    There were two things that the Lady withheld from him: knowledge of his name and family.
While this cause young Lancelot considerable distress, it gave him an opportunity that is common to myths and legends. It allowed him to grow and shape himself without being fettered by family name or caste or expectations. Whether he grew to be someone great, mediocre or insignificant would be his own free choice, and no one else's. He would discover first hand who he really was.
    When he turned 18, the Lady of the Lake took him aside and lectured him abut chivalry one last time. She then led him to King Arthur's court with an impressive entourage, where he was knighted.
    Young Lancelot, still nameless, took one look at Queen Guenevere and fell in love. Never assuming that his feelings would be reciprocated, he silently dedicated his life on her behalf, even though she scarcely noticed him
    Almost immediately he sallied forth looking for adventure, as young knights often do. Through unmatched skill and boldness, he conquered every challenge that came his way. Every victory he claimed for the queen. He made a number of foolish mistakes as well, but learned from them.
    His greatest challenge came from a castle known as Dolorous Guard.
    An evil lord had turned this formidable castle into a gateway to hell, allowing demons to come and go as they pleased. This placed an evil spell on everyone who lived there, so that they suffered day and night, and could not escape. Thorn bushes were all that grew there.
    The only way for the enchantments to cease was for a knight of great skill to meet certain requirements. This included conquering twenty knights single-handedly—a seemingly impossible task.
    With the help of magic shields supplied by the Lady of the Lake, he managed to meet these requirements. The castle was his, and he changed its name to Joyous Guard.
    While staying there, recovering from his wounds, a damsel from the Lake led him into a small cemetery in the castle courtyard. It was surrounded by a crenelated wall where the head of a previous challenger was displayed in every notch.
    The damsel brought him to the center of the yard to a particularly ornate tomb made of silver and gold. To the young knight's amazement, the inscription on it said that this was the tomb of the knight who conquered Dolorous Guard, and beneath that slab his name would be revealed.
    Lancelot used all the strength that he could muster and raised the slab overhead. The inscription inside told him that his name was Lancelot, son of King Ban of Benoic.
    Lancelot was thrilled to learn this, but the damsel who led him there was horrified. Something was terribly wrong, she told him.
    "How so?" he asked.
    "Your true birth name was Galahad. Your destiny was to become the greatest knight who ever lived. But now that has changed."
    Lancelot was not impressed by her concern. He was much too happy having found his name and heritage.
   Years later, he had an illegitimate son who carried the name of Galahad, and achieved the perfection that his father was incapable of, due to Lancelot's fabled love for the queen. It was young Galahad who achieved the Holy Grail on the greatest Quest of them all, while Lancelot was shamefully barred from its presence.
    What lessons can we learn from all this?
    The story tells us that each man is born with the potential for great honor despite his parentage or family name, or particular caste, if only he is given a fair chance to achieve it. It is our own choice that shapes us for good or ill. Chivalry inspired Lancelot to great accomplishments, despite his imperfections. Many considered him the greatest knight who ever lived, despite his son.
    Lancelot's name was not chosen by his parents, but came through his reputation. As the perfect knight, his name would have been Galahad. As a man of great honor and achievement, who struggled with his own imperfections just like the rest of us, he was his real self, Lancelot, whose glory eventually outshone all his peers.
    The rest of us may keep the names we have, but our choices in life are what give those names meaning. When we say a fellow has made a good name for himself, we refer to his reputation. From chivalry's point-of-view, that means honor, authenticity and performing great deeds.
    The story suggests that something of the perfect knight lives inside us all, something related to personal conscience. It is this inner connection to chivalry that inspires us to do good and live well.
    Galahad's perfection suggests a messiah-like figure we can admire and even revere, but never come close to emulating. More angel than man, his personality escapes us. He is virginity intactus, physically and spiritually. He doesn't belong to this earth like the rest of us, and he knows it. He longs for death in order to be close to God. To most of us, this is incomprehensible. As fallible men, we need to look elsewhere for inspiration.
    We find that inspiration in his father, in Lancelot du Lac, not du Benioc, Lancelot of the Lake, or water, or the unconscious, which is the baptismal font that brings new life.
   The romances never condemn Lancelot for his love for Guenevere. They seem to respect it for its authenticity. It is this undying, unconventional love that makes him superlatively human. He is not just flawed by individuality, he is wonderfully flawed. A significant portion of his nobility flows from it—and this is why he is held in such high esteem.
    Lancelot chose to be human rather than some prodigy of the divine, and in this respect he reflected the way of Adam and Eve, condemned to be what they really were. He was not a saintly Galahad, but he was not a bland, follow-the-herd consumer either. He balanced being true to himself with being true to his principles—with love superseding both.
Lancelot cannot be pigeonholed or condemned for his imperfections, because as a man, he literally did his best.
    This is the heart of real chivalry. It respects human nature enough that it asks nothing more than to do your best. No fake piety. No obsessive fear of sin nor lust for heaven. Just real values from the heart, struggling against forces that try to contradict them. It's acceptable to fail, as long as you do your best and learn from your mistakes—as long as your love is true and your intent is honorable. What could be more human?
    Here we find the central axis of chivalry and Western culture as a whole, so often at odds with strict authoritarianism and other aspects of duality.
    The message is this: we are only human—but that says a lot if we do our best and follow our principles with integrity. We don't allow our imperfections to stop us. We are men of conscience before we are men of obedience, or men of fear. We are complicated beings who make mistakes, and sometimes for terrible reasons, but we have the capacity to pick ourselves up and try again. We can be virtuous and imperfect at the same time. That is our glory.
    The dark side of our nature needn't prevent us from moving toward the light. We try to fix things, improve them, find better ways. We resist negativity even as we wallow in it.
    Slavery and caste could not remain a viable part of Western culture. That women won the right to vote against the status quo was a great achievement, but it was inevitable as well. That every citizen enjoys civil rights, protection under the law, freedom of religion and a voice in the democratic system seems unquestionably natural to us, as does freedom, which so many of us declare to be a God-given right. It is not like that everywhere in the world. What we take for granted is an incomprehensible dream to others. To some, even a threat.
    Striving to better ourselves, prove ourselves, is a worthy endeavor, a vital part of authentic living. Striving for unattainable perfection leads to failure, shame and neurotic manifestations.
    Psychology tells us how important is it to accept who we are.
Chivalry-Now tells us that it's more important to discover who we are, and bring the fullness of that discovery to life through self-development.
    As real men, as Companions and knights-in-training, we are summoned to partake in the struggles between good and evil as the world perceives it. In accepting that responsibility, as all true knights must, the drama of the universe unfolds before our eyes. We become part of that greater drama, and herein we find our purpose and meaning.
    The story of Lancelot, taken as a whole, tells us that we each have a seat waiting for us at Arthur's Round Table, if we choose to accept it by living as men of honor.

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