Merlin’s Chess or The Magic of Avalon – Part 1

Viviane and Merlin, Gustave Doré (1868)

In human history, the tales of King Arthur, Merlin and the mysteries of the Holy Grail, have been used in many different ways. Not the least in cheap cinema productions and fiction novels. In this article we leave behind those superficial exposures of these ancient stories, which have a deep archetypal significance, but simultaneously, explains worlds that co-exist with our own.


The Western esoteric tradition, since the days of the Golden Dawn and later, have invested much effort and time in the Hermetic and Rosicrucian curricula within their occult system of magic. These types of magic could be traced back to Babylonian, Hellenic and Egyptian influences, becoming an amalgam of potent, magical procedure. Following this relative short episode of the high times of the first GD temples, other initiatives arose on the British Isles, in charge of people who need not much introduction. Dion Fortune of the Inner Light is one of them. Later followed by splinter groups like the Avalon group of Gareth Knight, the Servants of the Light (S.O.L) and many others until this very day.

However the changes that came through the years and adaptations within the complex material of these groups, there was not much in-depth research done towards the mythology and magical history of one’s own culture. That is, Celtic, Brittonic and Anglo-Saxon influences, coming from different parts like, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and other places. What was mainly uncovered and we could say, rehabilitated, were the ancient mysteries of the soil and mythologies that had arisen from the land and stars, many, hundreds (or longer) of years ago. Within these tales and folk-stories, there came a complete secret to the surface, explaining about ancestors, shamanic-druidic wisdom, alliances with nature, a race that is called Faery, and much more rich and semi-cultural understanding of unwritten (oral) and written traditions.

To begin explaining about what Merlin’s Chess is, we have to know more about Faery, combined with described knowledge of Arthurian and other semi- historical and mythological sources. For some, Faery, like nature spirits, elementals and other classification of nature-folk, are no more than superstitious folk-tales, or bedtime stories for children. At the same time, the “old-folk” or the Faery folk, was once intensely connected to humans, not in the least, to those working with and within the land. For them, communication and participation with these beings, was as normal as tending their cows and sheep.

In the compendium of the occultist, Faery is likely to be recognized as being more than just subjectively real, taken into objective consideration in their rituals and procedures. Some say that Faery is a highly developed race, pre-existing physical humanity on earth, derived from the stardust and still abiding in the essence of starlight. In other words, it could be said that their life-essence is like the sun(light) and that their kingdom, which is the natural kingdom on the earth, is an adaptation of sun (star)light.

Although the human being is made up of elemental bits of consciousness that expresses in human physiology, the Faery beings are not physical. Their natural counterpart is the natural environment or better called “biosphere”, but in Faery jargon, would be called: “the original world”, as if going back to the Garden of Eden. Their realm of being and living is what might be called in occult philosophy; “the etheric-astral”, the electro-magnetic substance that pervades the physical world, sustaining it and providing a myriad of forms, from where the physical might come into existence.


As Faery does not directly operate on the physical level, cooperation between both species might be relevant for the sake of conscious evolution.

The nature of Faery

Humans are not Faery and Faery are no humans, but they have an age-old relationship throughout time. Even more, as Faery does not directly operate on the physical level, cooperation between both species might be relevant for the sake of conscious evolution. A symbiotic relationship has been suggested for ages by mages and lay people alike, and still, warnings go out as well, towards the ignorant and the arrogant.

Faery is not to be taken lightly or in any way regarded as childish looking creatures that have a similar development in consciousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are highly evolved creatures, probably existing longer than the human species (on earth), with an advanced knowledge about star-lore and earth- elemental life (and death). In that sense, they have derived at a level of consciousness, that humans do not yet have attained, reaching beyond normal personal knowledge, touching the elixir of life that makes them almost immortal. Another important feature about Faery is that they are about Beauty and this is what their realm and being expresses. A beauty that can be tempting to follow or to confuse with human characteristics that see beauty as something that can be possessed. Many medieval tales, tell about humans who have been tempting to follow into the realm of Faery, losing their sanity, their sense of earth-time, but also being granted visions of beauty and profound knowledge.

Those who have worked the Western mystery tradition, acknowledging the earth and land as vital places for occult practice, have been at times using astro-physics, derived and received from inner Faery contact. Clues about earth-heaven relationships were made long time ago, but those working with Faery began to see things that were not so clearly stated before. Starlight was not something that (only) belonged to the stars above, as if the universe was up in the heavenly sky, but rather, is a reality that is everywhere about and within. The first is not so difficult to realize, as indeed, stars are about the earth, and not only limited to the vision of the naked eye in the night-sky. The second idea is much more confined to the Faery-lore tradition, which says that the condensation of starlight is within the earth, having taken shape and form through the physical crystals in the soil of the earth.

Astro-physical knowledge which was transmitted by Faery to humans souls, taught teachings of origination, evolution, healing, metaphysics and many other subjects, containing principle secrets that were not known to humankind. One of those peculiar exchanges between Faery and human is the acknowledgment and recognition for what is similar in both species: the Light within. Faery is made of starlight, while the human-being contains (or rather, is contained by) an Angelic core of Light, making the human being an angelic being with the extraordinary capacity to “walk the earth while in heaven”. The human being can therefore perform throughout this time on the physical earth, and has simultaneously the potential experience of the inner light of heaven.


Red stream and White stream

On more than one occasion, human beings express their encounters with Faery through parable and story. Most of them have been since regarded as bedtime entertainment, but most children know better. And so does the occultist who sees countless expressions over centuries, where books like The Tain (Irish), The Mabinogion (Welsh), The Arthuriad (Celtic) and The Lord of the Rings (Anglo- Saxon), give out esoteric examples of how worlds interconnect, communicate and influence each other. One of those stories is told in the Mabinogion (meaning: a child’s story) where Gwyddbwyll or Merlin’s Chess (more correctly: Merddyn’s Chess) was played. In tradition, only parts of the actual instruction is left to our knowledge today. During and after the time of Hywel Dda (900 AD) some 200 years after the Celtic Church was established, this awkward and sinister game, was only aloud to be played by Welsh nobility.

Some Bardic sources have preserved Gwyddbwyll, together with nobility people until the Tudor times. It is likely that Dr. John Dee had access to such knowledge, yet having constructed his own “angelic” version of it, through his shared insights and experiences. Out of all this was not distilled the Merlin’s Chess, but the Enochian evocation that later was further developed by Golden Dawn initiates. From there it came a kind of game, called “Enochian Chess” that was played by mages and fools alike (or both). As nobody knew the real content and validity of Dee’s (and Edward Kelley’s) contacts, we might speculate if their communication was truly with Angels (which is rather doubtful) or with Faery beings, who are closer and more accessible to humanity.

In the Mabinogion it was written therefore, that being of “nobility” had nothing to do with earthly bloodlines of political or human-royal origins, but with a spiritual bloodline, that does not per se carry through physical bloodline.

In the Mabinogion it was written therefore, that being of “nobility” had nothing to do with earthly bloodlines of political or human-royal origins, but with a spiritual bloodline, that does not per se carry through physical bloodline. Human sovereignty means not the political heritage given from “father to son”, rather tells a hidden tradition of giving and receiving higher Knowledge from alliances with “those who know” (from whatever origin they are). Curiously enough, in this same book, we encounter sacred rituals similar to the Eucharist and much older, referring to a blending or cross- fertilizing “humans with beings of Light”. For they make a new bloodline, where earth and stars meet and moreover: are not divided, as we see in many traditions and belief-systems.

Making a leap in history, this sympathizes with the hidden-Christian (or occult Christian tradition) that focusses on the mystic-mage: Joseph of Arimathea, who (legend says) travelled to Albion (modern England) with the sacred Grail and blood (the vessel of Spirit). Here, he followed his steps to what is called Glastonbury, but what is known in the mysteries, as Avalon or The Island of holy apples. According to this story in tradition, he planted his staff and vessel (Grail) into a hill, wherefrom began to flow two streams, that are running there until this very day. They are called the Red stream of the human world and the White stream of Faery, both springing naturally from Glastonbury Tor whereon stand Michaels Tower.

Could it be possible that Jesus ben Miriam was in high inner contact with Faery beings of his own original land and soil (Palestine)? Why not. Faery is known to teach about beauty, wisdom and love (metaphysical), and transmit this to humans who are willing to co-unite with them. These contact are not limited to geographical borders and the planer provides everywhere, powerful places of meeting Faery. Anyway. We are not trying to prove anything in this direction, merely attempting to investigate Faery alliance from definite sources and where they lead us.

“Water” is a well-known element and intelligence that is considered with Faery, in all kinds of natural circumstances like lakes, wells, seas, streams, ponds etc. The two streams that run through certain geographical sites on the earth, explain why there are “crossroads” so to speak, or meeting -points, where humans and Faery connect. The realm of “crossing” is exactly where in the human body, but in external nature as well, we find the physical and the etheric world or “substance”. We cannot conclude that Faery can be met on the physical plane, although we meet Faery indirectly through the physical, natural world. Humanity is able to encounter Faery in and by the interface between physical nature and its subtle counterpart, the vitality-body and memory world of nature: the etheric.


13 x 13 red-white Gwyddbwyll board as reckoned by Mike Harris.

The configuration above allows for a seven tier ‘Caer’ arrangement.


Magical operation

Every human being who intentionally and deliberately wishes to contact Faery, should know very well what they are doing. This is not a warning, but a safeguard for the ignorant, who tumble into a (Merlin’s) chess “game”, which is not a game, a battle, or a competition of any kind, but a process of synchronization between the human and Faery worlds. There are “moves” being made by both species, that are able to connect and interact by means of magic. That means: by consciousness and sacred intent (will) to change patterns in the subtle domain of physical life. Faery can only do this from the subtle-etheric level, while humans have the potential to serve as channels for such magic. Of course, we know that only few human beings are aware of this potential, let alone, to use these abilities, to align to natural intelligences in order to come to a powerful symbiosis that serve harmony and beauty. Again, this type of synchronization is synonym with high magic, and therefore with pattern-making, alas the use of the Gwyddbwyll-chess board, in order to “play out” the specific moves that are needed to come to effective magic.

In the Mabinogion, the chess board is being mentioned as an interface of communication between both realms, where patterns that relate “heaven and earth”, are coming together. 

A lot of words that are connected to the Welsh word Gwyddbwyl (which means literally: “wood work”) are for example: “Gwydion”, which is another name for “magician” and is known from the esoteric stories in the Mabinogion tales. In the Mabinogion, the chess board is being mentioned as an interface of communication between both realms, where patterns that relate “heaven and earth”, are coming together. Heaven represents the star-world or the astro-metaphysical dimension of Faery, and the earth, the material equivalent of that prime world of the stars, where all physical manifestation comes from. Patterns in the stars make patterns in the land, and as such, human beings can recognize these patterns, work with them and even strengthen them. Merlin’s chess provides a pattern-board, but also a language of magical pattern making, that is in conformity with the stars (above and within)!

Gwyddbwyll is not only the chess board itself, but means the process itself, wherein one (re)aligns with nature and those intelligences and entities that govern the natural world: Faery. The Arthurian Formula (as it is sometimes called), is not only about such unspeakable business, so often inevitable in the “defence of the realm”. The “formula” itself is actually demonstrated, albeit in a rather obtuse bardic way, in the Gwyddbwyll “chess game” which Owain and Arthur play in the Mabinogi Dream of Rhonabwy. One of Arthur’s personal treasures and one of the thirteen Treasures of Britain was a Gwyddbwyll board and in the real life laws of the Welsh king Hywel Dda, (c.880 – 950) it is specifically stated that the Gwyddbwyll may only be used by the Welsh nobility. Gywddbywll has since become the modern Welsh word for chess, but chess is a war game whereas Gwyddbwyll is a magical operation based upon the quest for the cosmic equilibrium.


The Table Round, Winchester Castle (another geometrical, magical object, to synchronize different worlds).

This “cosmic equilibrium” is what is meant in, for example, the Egyptian Maat, usually translated as “Truth” and being typified in the soul being, brought to /measured in the balance. Similarly, the Hebrew Tsdeq enshrined in the title Melek-tsdeq and compressed into the name of the great high priest Melchizadek. King of “righteousness” in the Old Testament and Prince of “Peace” in the New. But Melchizadek’s “righteousness” is another inadequate translation, for again we are talking about that “cosmic equilibrium”. At the conclusion of his fight with the four kings of Edom, “whose kingdoms are unbalanced force”, Abram meets Melchizadek, signifying that after the battle, balance and cosmic order, Tsdeq is restored. Similarly after the Gwyddbwyll game between Owain and Arthur, which has exacerbated real battle and slaughter in the outer world beyond the charmed circle of the Gwyddbwyll board, a truce is agreed. This is of course the significance of the Table Round, and what the Arthurian Formula seeks to ultimately arrive at. When all are present, the siege perilous is filled, the bread and wine sanctified and the gates opened for the meeting of “angels, archangels and all the company of heaven” with ALL the denizens of creation, not least ourselves and our elder brethren in earth, the ‘lordly shining ones’.

The Welsh word for bear was and is of course Arth. And it is from Arth that we get Arth-ur. In other words the epoch of Arthur is the present epoch which began all those millennia ago when, due to the precession of the Equinoxes, the Pole Star alignment settled in the constellation of Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. Ancient peoples, not least the ancient Egyptians were well aware of the precession, despite the phenomenal amounts of time involved in this apparent movement of the earth’s polar axis. Thus it seems that the Little Bear is chained to the ragged staff, the alignment, of the earth’s axis. If you don’t like this as an explanation of Arthurian legend then look for consistency and find it in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story of Uther Pendraig as Arthur’s “Father”. Pendragon (pendraig) in Welsh, means: ‘head or chief of the dragon’, describes the previous constellation which held the Pole Star. Alpha Draconis in Draco the alpha / chief Draig or ‘dragon’. For Geoffrey of Monmouth Arthur is the result of a stellar, dynastic progression. 


End of part 1.
Part 2: How the chess board works and more in-depth material about Faery and Gwyddbwyll.
Mike Bais

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