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Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
  • Going Forth
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The Sword in the Stone

from chapter 10 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


Time: 30 minutes

T.H. White, in the Sword in the Stone, tells us the story of King Arthur as a boy. Joanna has recounted this story in workshops because it portrays the dimensions of power available to us as open interconnected systems.



Begin by telling the story, recounted here, then lead the group on a guided journey. End with sharing among the participants.

The wizard Merlin, as Arthur’s tutor, schooled the boy in wisdom by turning him into various creatures and had him live, for brief periods, as a falcon, an ant, a wild goose, a badger, a carp in the palace moat.

The time came when the new King of All England was to be chosen; it would be he who could draw the sword from the stone. All the famous knights, who came to the great tournament, went to the churchyard in London where the stone mysteriously stood, and tried mightily to yank out the sword that was imbedded in it. Heaving and sweating, they competed to prove their superior strength. No deal; tug and curse as they might, the sword did not budge.

Then the disgruntled knights departed to return to their jousting. Arthur, who was just a teenager then, lingered behind, went up to the stone to try his own luck. Grasping the sword’s handle he pulled with all his strength, until he was exhausted and drenched. The sword remained immobile. Glancing around, he saw in the shrubbery surrounding the churchyard the forms of those with whom he had lived and learned. There they were: badger, falcon, ant and the others. As he greeted them with his eyes, he opened again to the powers he had perceived in each of them — the industry, the cunning, the quick boldness, the perseverance. Knowing they were with him, he turned back to the stone and, breathing easy, drew out the sword, as smooth as a knife from butter.

After telling the story, lead the group on the following guided journey in your own words, as they sit with their eyes closed,

You have a task to do for the healing of our world. Your task may seem impossible to accomplish. Let it be symbolized by the sword in the stone. Feel the grain of the stone — how rough and unyielding it is, how the sword is anchored in it right up to the hilt. No matter how hard you strain and pull, the sword does not budge…

Just as Arthur looked about in the churchyard, look around your life to see the beings who have been your teachers in some way. Some you may live and work with now. Some may have lived a long time ago, but their qualities do not die; they live on. Let these beings appear in your mind’s eye: loved ones, teachers, saints, leaders, animals that have inspired you. Think of the qualities in each that you love and admire, breathe them in….

These friends are smiling at you now, reminding you of what is available to you now. The courage, the intellect, the goodness, and power that poured through their lives can also be yours. Breathing in these strengths, reach for the handle of the sword, slowly, calmly…. Now draw it out. See how the sword answers not to your own separate ego-efforts, but to the power of all beings, as you open to them.

Who appeared in the surrounding bushes of your life and gave you strength to pull the sword from the stone? Who gave you insight and courage? The gifts they received from the web of life are available to you as well.

After the story and the guided journey, people can tell each other about those from whom they draw power.

Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown