Excalibur – Origin Story, Myths & Powers

The Excalibur Sword

The Excalibur Sword. Depictions in Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall’s Our Island Story (1906). Image Source.

Excalibur refers to the magical sword that was wielded by the legendary King Arthur. According to several stories, the Excalibur sword bestowed upon the wielder great power and might. The summary below provides in-depth details about the Excalibur, as well as the stories and myths that surround it:

How King Arthur Obtained the Sword

The origin of King Arthur’s sword is interesting, much like the legend itself. Though there may be two historical narrations about how King Arthur got the Excalibur, the two versions all mention the fact that the sword of a kind. One mythological theory suggest that, Arthur uprooted the sword from a stone, while the others say that a mythical feminine being from water, gave the sword to King Arthur. Let’s take a look at the two popular accounts of King Arthur’s magical sword:

First Popular Account- Sword from a Stone

One legend narrates that King Arthur’s Excalibur was initially stuck to a stone. For years, it remained firmly fixed to the stone while living in the hope that anyone who successfully removed it was bound to become the next ruler of England.

That was a daunting task, but it was definitely worth a shot. Many people attempted to pull the sword out in order to secure the English throne. However, the sword remained stuck in the same position, despite several removal attempts from the strongest men on the planet at that time. Finally, one man was able to surprise Excalibur. Guess who that was! It was the legendary King Arthur who went and effortlessly uprooted the sword. There you go! It doesn’t take muscular men to do the impossible; it takes people of honor.

Second Popular Account- Excalibur Came From Lake Water

The Excalibur

The Lady of the Lake gifting King Arthur the Excalibur sword. Illustration by Walter Crane for Henry Gilbert’s King Arthur’s Knights: The Tales Retold for Boys and Girls (1911). Image Source.

Another tale suggests that the Excalibur had its origin from water. At this point, it is certainly surprising that one Excalibur was able to come from land and at the same time, from water. Maybe we shouldn’t doubt it – that would not be an impossible thing for a magical sword such as the Excalibur.

According to literary publications from Thomas Malory, King Arthur secured the sword from “Lady of the Lake“. In Arthurian legend, the Lady of the Lake was considered the mother of Lancelot and partner of Merlin. The legend goes on to say that the mysterious lady from the watery world gave Excalibur to King Arthur. She acted under the orders of Merlin (the wizard who gave magical advice to Arthur).

Where Can You Find the Lake?

Geographically, the Dozmary Pool in Cornwall, England is believed to be the habitat of the Lady of the Lake. According to the legend, the lake had no bottom; it was deep all the way down. Unfortunately, this is not true today. The water level in the Dozmary Pool has a depth limit that measures a few feet. Sometimes it even dries up.

History and Meaning of Excalibur

The Excalibur we know today wasn’t always called “Excalibur”. Various ancient writers used different variants of the name. In “History of British Kings (1136 CE)” by Geoffrey of Monmouth, he called King Arthur’s sword “Caliburnus” or sometimes “Caliburn”. This was likely gotten from the Latin word “chalybs” which means the metal “steel”

When Geoffrey’s work was translated into French by Wace, he called the sword “Chaliburn”. Another poetic writer by name Chretien de Troyes, chose to rename the sword “Escalibor”.  Finally, when the legend of King Arthur was put into English literature, the “Escalibor” became “Excalibur”. In all its rich historical evolution, the Excalibur has been interpreted to mean something which “cuts steel”.

To vast speakers of the English Language, Thomas Malory’s 1485 publication, “Le Morte D’Arthur” was very successful in popularizing Excalibur as the powerful sword of King Arthur.

Powers of Excalibur

Now that we know how King Arthur got his magical sword, let’s find out what power was buried within the Excalibur.

King Arthur’s sword had great powers in it. With it, he fought and won many wars. Even though, there are different versions of the Excalibur’s story, the element of “magical power” unites all of them in truth.

In Geoffrey’s writings, King Arthur led the Britons in a war against the Saxons. When he drew out his Caliburnus (Excalibur), Arthur slew hundreds of his enemies.

According to Thomas Malory’s writings, Arthur was initially defeated by King Lot and was rescued by his knights. The situation changed when Arthur drew out his Excalibur. It shone out brightly, equaling the illumination produced by 30 flashlights. Arthur then slew the Saxons mercilessly with his sword.

Excalibur Returns Home

In the early part of the 6th century, legend has it that King Arthur fought his final battle-the Battle of Camlann. The aftermath of the battle saw King Arthur severely injured. His opponent was the rebellious nephew of his, Mordred. The story goes on to say that, the dying Arthur instructed one of his knights (Sir Bedivere) to throw the Excalibur into a lake. Initially, the knight hesitated to throw away such a powerful weapon. Finally, when he threw it into the lake, a hand emerged from the water and grabbed the sword. The mysterious hand, adorned with roses, waved the Excalibur and vanished below the water. The legend concludes that the Lady of the Lake had claimed back the sword she ones bestowed on King Arthur.

How a 7-Year-Old Girl Discovered King Arthur’s Excalibur

How would you feel if I told you that a young girl of 7 actually came across the sword of King Arthur? Believe it or not, in 2017, Matilda Jones (while swimming in the Dozmary Pool in Cornwall), miraculously bumped into a sword which measured 4 feet. The family were there for a visit to the supposed site where the Excalibur was thrown into. Coincidentally, her dad narrated the legend of King Arthur to his daughter before their trip.

The discovery was received with mixed feelings by lovers of Arthurian Literature. King Arthur’s real existence has been a debatable topic for centuries and decades, let alone his sword and its discovery.

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1 Response

  1. Paul Tapp says:

    Thank you for making this amazing story of Excalibur available on the WWW. I had read Tennyson’s Poem “The Passing Of Arthur” many times and can now recite it in my sleep. Several years ago I appeared before a belated coronial inquest into the death of a young woman missing for several decades.It was my self-published book on the missing woman that caused the inquest. I was sent into custody for arguing with senior counsel and a hitherto unknown young lawyer rose out of the body of the court with an arm raised high holding the invisible mythical sword of justice, saying “I now act for Mr Tapp… pro bono.” She persuaded me to apologise or otherwise eat porridge for a month, for disrupting the proceedings. On my return home I wrote a piece for an online newsletter in my State, referring to her as ‘The Lady Of The Lake” brandishing the grand sword of justice’.I am preparing a special self-published book on the whole matter for the State Library and for the aforementioned lawyer and would very much like to use some of your photos in the publication. Once completed I would be happy to send you a copy. I found your site searching for info on what type of gems were used in Excalibur…”for all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks, myriads of topaz-lights and jacinth-work of subtlest jewellery…” Kind regards, Paul

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