Lancelot's Path to Self-Discovery
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-handedlya seemingly
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 itand
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
principleswith 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 mistakesas 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 humanbut
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
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.