Caitlín Matthews is a writer, singer and teacher whose ground-breaking work has introduced many to the riches of our western spiritual heritage.
She is acknowledged as a world authority on Celtic Wisdom, the Western Mysteries and the ancestral traditions of Britain and Europe. She is the author of over 50 books including Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, a study of Divine Feminine in Gnostic, Jewish and Christian thought and King Arthur’s Raid on the Underworld, a new translation and study of the Welsh poet Taliesin’s extraordinary poem, itself a major cross-roads of British mythology.
Trained as an actress, Caitlín is in demand as a storyteller and singer. She appears frequently on international radio and television, and was the song-writer and Pictish language originator for the Jerry Bruckheimer film King Arthur. With John Matthews, her partner, who was historical consultant on the film, she shared in the 2004 BAFTA award given to Film Education for the best educational CD Rom: this project introduced school-children to the life and times of King Arthur.
Caitlin’s official website: Hallowquest
Caitlin and her writings have long been admired by Virginia Chandler, and Virginia considers herself to be honored and blessed to have Caitlin as a friend. When asked if she (Caitlin) supports John Matthews’ (Caitlin’s husband) and Virginia’s plan to rule the galaxy, Caitlin simply smiled. Knowingly.
THE LIFE-GIVING HALLOWS & THEIR MAGICAL EFFECT
Yes, you all went, owls, wands and all, and queued at midnight for the last instalment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. You now know the end of the Hogwarts saga and must live with the consequences. Expelliamus and expecto patronum will not serve you now!
For John and myself, the Hallows are the holy things. They are the ever-living treasures about which we have devoted a great deal of our time writing and teaching. In our household, we really root for the Hallows as adamantine treasures of great power. They take many forms in different places and every country has its own Hallows: in Britain they include the 13 Treasures of Britain , as well as the sword, spear, grail and stone of the Grail legends. They are the regalia of the Goddess of the Land, Sovereignty or Flaitheas, as she is known in Ireland . Hallows are sometimes given into the keeping of rulers and chieftains for a brief time, but they inevitably pass back into the otherworld whence they come, as we see with the sword Excalibur which returns to the Lady of Lake.
We should indeed ask, are the Hallows, in the words of 1066 and All That by Sellers and Yeatman, ‘a good thing?’ In Raiders of the Lost Ark this Biblical Hallow is called ‘a source of unspeakable power!’ Those who’ve seen it will testify to the Nazi-shrivelling abilities of the Ark or, as we call it in our house, ‘the Shekhina-effect.’ You don’t mess with the Hallows, clearly! They are guarded powers for good reason and cannot be commanded.
What are the Hallows for? We all have a sense of the Hallows as marvellous objects that bring healing or change, but then we live in a society that seeks immediate gratification whether one shops online or seeks spiritual satisfactions through the next book of instant enlightenment. For our world, we expect spiritual powers to pay out every time like an inexhaustible fruit machine. We want their power or gifts, ergo, they should be ours. It’s a feature of modern magic that is weak and despicable, what might be termed ‘knocking on the otherworldly doors for a cup of sugar.’ Good neighbourliness responds to minor requests of this kind, but repeated requests without any reciprocation eventually cause good relations to break down.
Let’s call upon the wisdom of Vi Hilbert, an Upper Skagit elder from the North West Pacific coast of America, ‘In the old days, spiritual help was a gift that you earned in order to make your life better, to make your life stronger, to allow you to live honourably in this world because you had the help of the spirit. So this is what the young people have mistaken as the entire thing. It’s just a part of it. It’s a steppingstone to becoming educated.’
This is a hard concept for the modern seeker to take in. Because we’ve been in reaction to the desacralization of our world and culture, we’ve tended to emphasize the spiritual side of life more, to the detriment of our everyday life. Of course we need the precious and supporting gift of the otherworld, but our world also needs our own physical strength, our common sense and practical resourcefulness. In other words, Spirit expects us to do our part and won’t send in a nanny or a New Age guru to take the pain of our lives away. Reciprocation between the worlds means that we must also contribute to the commonwealth and become the gift.
The more ancient and indigenous view of the Hallows brings us up short with a nasty, suspicious question: do the Hallows give life or death? Yes, to both questions. Whether we look at the elemental powers themselves which are mediated through the Hallows, where we see them very demonstrably revealed in the summer flooding of Britain, or whether we go straight to the Arthurian myths to see how Lancelot becomes stricken blind when attempting to unworthily touch the Grail, we are seeing the destructive powers of the Hallows in action.
For every act of healing, there is a corresponding action of destruction, removal or disintegration. Diseased heart-tissue must be cut out to fit a new heart-valve. The grit must be cleansed from a wound before it is dressed with healing salves. Similarly, traumatic events must be purged from the memory before ordinary events can resume their flow. A lost soul-fragment cannot return to its proper place unless the intrusion that has filled up this absence is first removed. All acts of healing have a giving and a taking hand.
The magical effect of the Hallows is clearly predicated upon three qualities: need, intention and grace. Grace belongs to Spirit but occasionally cloaks human beings also when they turn within recognize the signs that Spirit leaves, and so changes their lives accordingly. Grace makes people humble giving them heroic dimension, when they step out of their own issues and enter centrally into the precious present moment for all living beings. Need is a basic human condition that recurs. However, need causes people to pray for the help that would alleviate that condition: prayer or intention creates the pathways down which the Hallows can flow. The Hallows reveal themselves when need, intention and grace are aligned: when need, and prayer meet the grace of a seeker who can stand out of the way and become, briefly, an agent for the healing Hallows. This is how Perceval healed the Wounded King and made the Waste Land flower again.
You may feel that, in your own sphere of life, such miracles are impossible, that your own needs, whether petty or overwhelming, cannot be met; that your prayers, whether whispered or unspoken, cannot batter heaven; that your aspirations to grace have gone unnoticed and unfulfilled. For a moment, stand in that precious present moment where time and place meet eternity and space: face the directions in turn, scanning them as you reach by means of your soul and by your singing, allow your song (hums of Pooh will do, it doesn’t have to be grand opera) to penetrate each direction and allow to make visible the power that stands in that location. Each direction, each element has its guardian power that flows together, like many atoms coagulating, into a shape of one of the Hallows. Maybe you will discover powers and shapes of the Hallows that no one has known for many generations.
In your meditations, you will be resonant with one of the Hallows, one power that calls you most strongly and that is the one that you can work with closely, before you pass on and learn more about the others. Do not try to manipulate or cajole such powers. Make it your business to contact the guardian being that has it in keeping. If you invoke the Hallows, be aware that they will take away what is stale, leach out what is poisoned, pierce the rotteness or cut away the lie that encases your need. That will mean that things fall away and die back, friends who’ve become mere acquaintances will fade away, groups grown stale will implode, relationships and connections that were once sustaining will go belly up. But into that raw and cauterised cavity, the blessed power of the Hallows can pass into your life, opening new doors and windows, revealing fresh connections. One cannot come without the other.
Such is the magical effect of the Hallows. Their blessed and dreadful power surrounds us. The reason why human agents of the Hallows are nearly always people of great simplicity and innocence is that they don’t come with the sophisticated, reckoning minds that seek their own advantage. Simplicity and spontaneity are the habit of the quester, after all. How we respond to the challenge of the Hallows is not with wands at the ready, but in the innocence of our hearts that listen to the voice of Spirit.
To explore the Hallows for yourself, see The Arthurian Tarot by Caitlín & John Matthews, with images by Miranda Gray.