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Sleeping Knights - Part 1

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In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell stated: “The wonder is that the characteristic efficacy to touch and inspire deep creative centers dwells in the smallest nursery fairy tale - as the flavor of the ocean is contained in a droplet or the whole mystery of life within the egg of a flea”. He says that folk myths and stories collected from all corners of the Earth make up one multi-coloured, rich tale of the sublime goal of human life and the path that leads to its realization.

One of the most known Polish legends telling about sleeping knights in the cave near Giewont[1] fits in with the world-popular motif of heroes remaining in a dream who, when the time is right, will rise to fight for freedom. The story of sleeping knights in the Tatra Mountains is usually interpreted in a patriotic and independence context, but its message is much deeper and more primal. To demonstrate this, we will first quote the legend.

The hero of the story is a shepherd named Johnny, who lives in a highlander’s village at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. Once upon a time, Johnny’s neighbor, an old highlander, paid him a visit and told a story about a treasure hidden in a cave near Giewont. Intrigued, the boy went to the mountains to find the cave. When he got tired of wandering, he sat on a stone and heard the horses neighing. It surprised him because at that height there were rather no horses. After a while, he realized that the sounds were coming from below the ground. He looked around and saw a small gap between the boulders. He rolled off the stone which blocked the entrance, slid down, walked in the dark for a moment, until he came to a large cave in which a bonfire was burning. Beneath the walls there stood beautiful horses and among them slept a knight in shining armor. Johnny got scared and started to run. But while escaping, he accidently kicked a stone and woke the knight who asked him a question:

- Is it the time?

- No, sir, not yet - answered Johnny.

- That’s very good – said the knight and pointed the next cave to the boy.

- Look, boy, here we sleep. We are the knights of His Majesty. When the time comes, we will rise to defend our mountains and lands. But don’t wake my brothers yet. They will be up when needed.

Saying this, the knight came to the fire, took out a big burning log and gave it the boy so it could light his path. After returning home, Johnny told the villagers about his adventure, and they also wanted to see the knights. During the next trip, the boy didn’t find the entrance to the cave. He also didn’t hear the horses neighing.

- The time has not come yet - he said to the villagers, and they believed him. An old highlander said to the boy:

- I didn’t think you could find the treasure I told you about. Do you know, what the treasure is?

Johnny shook his head.

- It’s freedom, boy. The highlander smiled. It is the greatest treasure. Not only here, in the mountains, but all over the world. And the sleeping knights from Tatra will always guard it.

This legend inspired a famous Polish author, Maria Konopnicka (1842- 1919), to write a poem:

There, in my country, in a faraway land[2]

There, in my country, in a faraway land
a hundred dimmed stars shine in a crown,
one hundred extinguished stars above the field stand,
like a hundred knights in an iron armor clad.

There, in my country, in a faraway land
one hundred red-hot hearts with longing burn,
one hundred red-hot hearts pound in the chest
like a ghost into armor iron plates.

There, in my country, in a faraway land
one hundred winds are galloping through fallow lands,
one hundred winds are galloping through the steppe trail
like one hundred steeds' golden horseshoes beating the ground.

And when one hundred days, one hundred nights shall pass,
with hearts full of power knights will rise,
knights will rise, horses will mount,
and they'll light up stars in the golden crown.

The symbolism contained both in the legend and in the poem refers to the archetypal motives of the liberating spiritual path, in which every person sets off when “the right time comes”. This path has always been compared to climbing a high mountain. Its goal was and still is ascension, spiritual heights, freedom and sovereignty, releasing from the chains of the material world, from the vicious circle of birth and death.

In the second part of this article, we will try to show, how this old Slavic folk parable and the poem written by Maria Konopnicka coincide with the path of alchemical transformation and the biblical message, read through the prism of the inner Christianity (Gnosis).

Go to Part 2


[1] Giewont is a mountain massif in the Polish Tatra Mountains, it is 1,895 meters AMSL at its highest. The profile of the mountains, viewed from the north, resembles a lying knight.

[2] Translated by Przemysław Musiałowski, https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/there-in-my-country-in-a-faraway-land/

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