Chivalry as Meaning for the Dames and Knights of The Order of St. George
The word ‘chivalry’ comes from the French ‘Chevalier’ which meant ‘horseman’ and of the women of Gaul as “Chevalress”. This was a term used in Old French from 1330 – 1500 AD. In a report from Roman Julius Caesar in the late 1st century, he was surprised by the women of Gaul on horseback fighting the Roman invaders, a “Chevalress”. There is symbolic duality in the term that sees the horse as representative of the body with its energies and emotions. The rider, on the other hand, represents the higher spiritual self of the individual, specifically the best and noblest self to which we aspire. The rider symbolizes our transcendent “Quest for Self”.
The history of the ideal of chivalry finds its origins in the years after the fall of the Roman Empire. It was a response to the increasing barbarism of the Dark Ages and set the stage for the compelling and visionary legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The Dark Ages was a time where there was little left in the world in the way of charity, loyalty, justice, or truth. Enmity, disloyalty, injustice, and falsehood became the norm …. The subsequent rise of chivalry was a return to the ideals of justice and honour, and an effort to restore balance, justice, and truth in an unjust and brutal world.
The true Knight is not perfect but is always on a path towards perfection. Hence, the physical and mental trials all Knights go through. They sometimes fail, as in the portrayal of the Quest of the Holy Grail. In the view of ancient and current belief systems and representative cultures going back over 7,000 years, it is believed that humanity is perfectible. It is our destiny as human beings to constantly aspire to achieve the divine within ourselves. This was frequently manifested in the efforts of Middle Age alchemy, or the transmutation of the base person, as lead (earthly, heavy, and opaque) into the person of gold – shining, incorruptible, pure, and selflessly giving.
The hallmark of chivalry is nobility – not of blood, but of character. And what is nobility of character but the transcendence of one’s lower traits to achieve the higher? It is the ability to resist base and self-serving impulses and strive, instead, for the benefit of the greater good. In this sense, this is more than a reactive product of the European Middle Ages, but a universal ethical vision for all Humankind.
The peak of the popular revival of chivalry came around the twelfth century. Most scholars agree that it was inspired by the Islamic world, which medieval Europeans encountered through the Crusades. This time led to a massive revival and popularization of the “Arthurian cycle” of stories, drawn from old legends and romantic sagas, but now put into literary form. The formalizing of the legend required that the Knight overcome honour-based trials and difficulties, often in the context of magical adventures, frequently against impossible odds.
These popular tales of myth or legend typically involved allegorical damsel in distress, or a spring gushing from under a rock. These symbols represented the higher element of the soul, a spiritual purity, and as a substantial trans mutative opportunity of inconceivable value for the aspiring knight. Facing and overcoming these trials in a contemporary context can lead us, as Dames and Knights, to discover who we truly are – a question which I think many of us would love to be able to answer.
St. George symbology represents the Dragon and the Knight – locked in mortal combat, the dragon wielding tongue and claws while the Knight defends with the lance and shield. This illustrates the fact that chivalry is not only about external battles, but also, most importantly, about the inner battle between the higher and lower selves of all human beings.
How many of your fears are illusions are created by your own minds? A Dame or a Knight faces and defeats their own fears in order to better know and more fully become their true selves. This conquest of self can free the soul to better help others. By understanding and overcoming personal challenges one is better able to understand the challenges, fears, and barriers with which others struggle.
The virtues of a Dame or a Knight and their inner conquests are more important than physical prowess: The Knight who practices chivalric values with respect to the body but does not practice those of the soul is not a friend of the Order of Chivalry and cannot offer honor and justice to those around them.
There is a rich and related symbolism in the colors of the Shield of St. George associated with its origins in alchemy. To alchemists, color changes signified the successful progress of the synthesis of the Philosopher’s Stone, the Pure One. Color chemistry was both an essential practical skill and a process laden with mystical connotations. The colors summarized the stages in the creation of the philosopher’s stone and the transmutation of ‘base’ metals into ‘noble’ ones.
White represents simplicity, innocence, to indicate a beginning and perfection. In heraldry, white is used to show purity.
Red is the color of fire and blood and is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, and determination in balance with passion, desire, and love. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage.
What then, is the goal of a Dame or a Knight? Through Courage we become Pure. The Philosopher’s Stone symbolizes the achievement of all powers, the mastery over oneself and nature; the power to heal, and to make whole. In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, the Holy Grail is described as a stone. Like a cauldron of plenty, it has the power to nourish endlessly and, if the right questions are asked, to heal the King (the Self) and the Kingdom (the World).
To achieve that goal, the Dame or Knight must work towards personal, spiritual transformation. The Middle Ages were called the Dark Age because it was a spiritually dark time in human history. There was little left in the world in the way of charity, loyalty, justice, or truth. Abuse was at hand at every corner from corrupt clergy to local sheriff’s and tax collectors.
The long labor of purification, symbolized by the transformative trials and adventures of the Knight, included righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. When a Knight in bright, polished armour arrived to protect a person or community that was wronged, they were perceived as a light of hope in a dark world. The Knight in shining armour today is not some outdated, romantic myth but, a timeless symbol of selfless efforts to change the world. To make it a better place for all.
Yours in St. George,
Steven Mohns KCStG
The Legend of St George (A video link)