Going Underground


Arthurian legends are rich with tales of adventure in which brave knights venture outside the confines of the royal court into strange and enchanted realms full of dreamlike encounters and otherworldly goings-on, which often at first glance don’t seem to make any sense. Maidens kept in scalding baths, lances that drip blood, mysterious forces and uncanny beings.

This is because they are tales of journeying into the Inner or unconscious world, where everything is symbolic and often, to the rational mind, downright weird.

In one myth, Lancelot crosses into Meleagant’s kingdom by means of a Sword Bridge, a common motif in medieval literature marking the crossing point between the everyday world and the dreamlike Otherworld.

Psychologically speaking, the blade of the Sword is the awareness penetrating into the unconscious mind.


Sigmund Freud popularised the concept of the unconscious mind as a store of powerful emotional energy trapped by repression.

He encouraged patients to free up this energy by bringing repressed thoughts and feelings into the conscious mind, through a process of free-association and talking about dreams (which Freud saw as “the royal road to the unconscious”). Freudian therapy is the basis for modern psychoanalysis. Counselling techniques ranging from art therapy to hypnosis are all designed to penetrate the unconscious mind and bring that which is hidden to the surface.

For the individual working alone, a similar goal is achieved through meditation, with the added bonus that the practice of meditation trains the conscious mind to better penetrate the unconscious realms. In symbolic language, meditation hones the Sword.

In order to access the unconscious, the mind must be free of distraction, be that stimulus from the outer world or the mind’s own internal dialogue. This may seem like a tall order, but like anything it improves with practice. It isn’t as if we have to achieve a Zen-like state of complete non-thought before results are obtained – reducing the chatter a little can pay enormous dividends.

A common reason the mind is distracted by the outer world is a tendency to find external causes for inner states: people that have hurt or angered us; situations that have impeded our progress. We need to let go of these in order to connect with the real source of our power.

At first when the mind quietens, the loudest voices will be heard. Dissatisfaction, frustration, loneliness and all manner of fears can rise to the surface. This can be off-putting; it is tempting to keep the mind distracted rather than face what lies beneath. But these negative emotions present an opportunity for the greatest transformation.

There are other things to lure us from the Inner. The Arthurian tales are rife with seductive temptresses, beautiful ladies who attempt to beguile the knights from their chosen path. This is the call of the physical, sensory world. Not that there’s anything wrong in sensual pleasure; it’s simply a question of choice – being able to postpone immediate gratification in order to tap into something much more substantial.

Deeper still there are psychological complexes of which we may not even be aware. These are the monsters the knights must overcome.

It may sound like a struggle, but only when the darkness is faced can it be transmuted into light. Emotion is a flow, and when trapped emotion is allowed to flow again, the accompanying release of energy imbues the conscious life, raising our state and enhancing our lives.

There is another reason to explore the unconscious realms: to reach what the monsters are guarding.


While Freud remained in the upper currents of the great sea of the unconscious, believing sexual drives to be the primary motivational forces of human life, Carl Jung dived deeper.

Jung believed that life has a spiritual purpose beyond immediate material goals and that the main motivational force in human life is individuation – becoming whole. Individuation is a process of self-discovery. It involves passing through the accumulated layers of misconception to reach the true Self, which shines with radiant energy and light.

Beyond the individual unconscious lies the collective unconscious, a reservoir of archetypes accessible to everyone. The deepest part of us is the point of greatest connection to the All.

This is the Cave of the Goddess, the sacred inner chamber where the greatest riches lie. This is the Grail Castle, the source of divine wisdom. It is the place where the light of the world can be found, and it exists within each of us.

But first there are those pesky critters to deal with.