Esplumoir? What's that?

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The word “esplumoir” comes from the Arthurian legend. It is found in a conversation between Merlin, the knight Perceval, and Perceval’s servant: Blaise. It is a bit of a strange and obscure conversation but it goes, basically, like this…

Merlin tells Perceval and Blaise, that the time has come, in which, the Lord wishes him to remove Merlin from the company of men. He is to build a dwelling, where he will prophesy, and remain there until the Final Judgment. He says he is to build this dwelling next to Perceval. In later years, those who see this place, Merlin says, will call it “Merlin’s esplumoir.”

Scholars say they think this word was made up for this conversation. It has its origin in the description for moulting. Its origin also implies transformation and renewal. Therefore, some give it the meaning of a place of moulting or a place of transformation.

The history of Christianity shows a desire, among the Church, to sanctify and Christianize things. “Esplumoir” is already a near-Christian (if not already a Christian) word. Therefore it should be easy to Christian-ize. Moulting, I have learned, is really a wonderful icon of transformation.

  • Moulting replaces. Moulting is the replacement of feathers by shedding old feathers while producing new ones. A transformation, likewise, rids a person of part of the old self and replaces it with something anew.
  • Moulting sheds deadness. Feathers are dead structures at maturity. They gradually become abraded and need put off. A transformation must give us life. We acquire life, in part, by ridding ourself of that which is dead in us. Man innately knows that we are not meant to die. The only way to escape death is to be joined with something that is more powerful and has defeated death. This is the resurrected Body of Christ, the Church. By acquiring the grace and power that Christ gives to those joined in His Church, we are transformed into immortal humans, who are gods by grace (See Psalm 82:6, Christ’s reference of that verse in John 10:34-36, and the writings of St. Athanasius).
  • Moulting is continuous. Birds moult at least once a year, but often twice, and some three times every year. A transformation is, really, not a single event. How can the creature-man be united to the Creator-God? It is a great mystery, but we are told that we go from glory to glory, and that it is eternity. This eternal life (that we are destined for) is to grow, in our finite way, in the infinite knowledge of God (John 17:3).
  • Moulting occurs in slow stages. It is generally a slow process. Birds rarely shed all their feathers at once. It must retain enough feathers to regulate its body temperature and repel moisture. In the same way, God gives us just enough struggle to rely on Him instead of lose any faith we have in Him. Also, if we received an over-abundance of grace, then it would be a fire that burns us, like dry grass. Those who experience God are always talking about light. We receive only the portions of light we need to bring us to our transformation. There are stages in completing the transformation of man, just as there are stages in a bird's complete replacement of feathers. Historically, these stages have been called by different names, but today they are commonly known as purification (considered praxis), illumination, and glorification or deification (the latter two considered theoria). For more, see the Orthodox Theology in the Reading List.

Moulting is a funny word. However, esplumoir is a very beautiful one. I want this esplumoir to be a place of help to transform our corrupt life towards a life that attracts God’s deifying power.