as Aongas-Og, Oenghus, Angus Mac Ind Oc along with other variations.
It translates as Aengus the Young.
is the child of the Dagda and Boand. Boand lived with her husband Elcmar
in the mound of Newgrange (Brugh na Boinne). The Dagda used magic to
ensure Elcmar's absence, using the time to seduce Boand. Aengus was
conceived and born on the same day, hence his name 'Aengus the Young'.
plays a part in the stories of the Fianna. He was foster father to Dairmuid
Ui Duibhne, and protected him after his elopement with Grainne. He is
popularly thought of as a 'God of Love', he is handsome, gentle and
a master of the harp.
he was a beautiful young man," he said, "with high looks, and his
appearance was more beautiful than all beauty, and there were ornaments
of gold on his dress; in his hand he held a silver harp with strings
of red gold, and the sound of its strings was sweeter than all music
under the sky; and over the harp were two birds that seemed to be
playing on it. He sat beside me pleasantly and played his sweet music
to me, and in the end he foretold things that put drunkenness on my
is also possessed of the cunning of his father. He took Brugh na Boinne
away from the Dagda with the help of Manannan Mac Lir: "For Manannan
bade him to ask his father for it for the length of a day and a night,
and that he by his art would take away his power of refusing. So Angus
asked for the Brugh, and his father gave it to him for a day and a
night. But when he asked it back again, it is what Angus said, that
it had been given to him for ever, for the whole of life and time
is made up of a day and a night, one following after the other."
are from Lady Gregory's 'Gods and Fighting Men'.
and stories about Aengus can be found on the Shee-Eire
poet, composer of the Canu Aneirin, that includes the Gododdin, the
famous account of the Battle of Catraeth. The Gododdin is a series of
elegies for friends who fell in the battle, which was fought in around
600CE. According to his poems, he was the only survivor. He seems to
have been an onlooker at the battle, and the poems tell us that he was
taken captive afterwards and subsequently rescued.
appears enygmatically in the Trioedd Ynys Prydein (Welsh Triads):
Unfortunate Assassinations of the Island of Britain:
son of Enygan, who slew Aneirin of Flowing Verse, prince of poets,
Trwm Bargod Eidyn who slew Afaon son of Taliesin,
Llaw Ddifo who slew Urien son of Cynfarch.
Unfortunate Hatchet Blows of the Island of Britain:
Blow of Eidyn on the Head of Aneirin
Blow on the Head of Golydan the Poet,
Blow on the Head of Iago son of Beli.
we know nothing else of these tales.
that his name may be a title. The prefix 'an' or 'n' signifies a negative,
and the suffix 'in' is a noun suffix, relating a person to a thing.
'Eir' or 'aer', as it is sometimes given, usually means 'warrior'. So
Aneirin could mean 'he who is not a warrior'.
speculates that Aneirin was actually a Christian priest - the poet relates
how he was saved from the battle by his 'holy song'. Popularly of course,
all these ancient poems are thought to be pagan in origin, with a Christian
overlay being added later. However, by 600CE, the Brythons had already
been Christian for several hundred years. Thus Aneirin's eulogies are
an act of ecclesiastical responsibility, as he says: "May there be for
their souls after battle/A welcome in the lands of heaven, the home
Names From the Dawn of British Legend, TD Griffin, Llanerch 1994 isbn
of Don and Beli Mawr, sister to Gwydion and Gilfaethwy. Her tale is
told within the myth of Math ap Mathonwy. This tells how she fails a
virginity test, giving birth to twins. One twin is a baby, the other
appears to be an unformed blob. Gwydion takes the second child and incubates
it in a chest, later becoming responsible for raising the boy. Arianrhod,
furious and ashamed, vows to deny the child a name, arms and a wife
- thus preventing him from becoming a full man. The boy becomes a source
of torment to Arianrhod, as Gwydion tricks her into bestowing these
three things upon him. The child is named Lleu Llaw Gyffes - Fair Deft
is also mentioned twice in the Triads. Firstly as being one of the Three
Fair Maidens of the Island of Britain, the other two being Creirwy fab
Ceridwen and Gwen fab Cywryd ap Crydon.Secondly, in Triad 35, which
concerns her sons, Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar. Here we learn that she is
married to Lliaws ap Nwyfre, a husband who does add weight to the idea
that Arianrhod was originally a celestial goddess.
probably means 'silver wheel', hence she is often interpreted as a moon
goddess. However, there is an alternate possibility that her name means
'silver fortress', which is interesting that she is strongly linked
with her dwelling, Caer Arianrhod. This fortress is seen as being the
constellation Corona Borealis and is also said by Rhys to be a rocky
outcrop situated near Dinas Dinlle, a burial mound near the Menai Straits.
of the Year
are found in the White Book of Rhydderch:
Calends fall on a Sunday, the winter will be good and the spring windy
and the summer dry, and vineyards thriving and sheep prospering, and
abundance of honey; and the old women will die, and there will be peace.
is a Monday there will be a variable winter and good spring and windy
and tempestuous summer; the vineyards will not be good; and men may
expect to thrive; and there will be disease among the bees. And it was
God gave these signs to men.
Calends are a Tuesday, there will be a showery winter and a windy spring
and a rainy summer, and disease among the women, and the ships in peril
on the sea, and the kings will die, and there will be much produce in
Calends are on Wednesday, there will be a hard wild winter and a bad
spring and a good summer, and the vineyards will be good, and the women
will die and many people will be sick; and there will be honey.
is a Thursday, there will be a good winter and a windy spring and a
good summer, and abundance of good things in that year, and peace between
is a Friday, there will be a changeable winter and a good spring and
a good summer, and pain in the eyes, and the vineyards will flourish,
and the sheep and the bees will die, and there will be plenty of corncrops
and the old folk will die.
Calends are on a Saturday, there will be a disturbed winter and a bad
windy spring, and a good summer and abundant produce, and the sheep
will die and houses will often be burned.
signs are true, if the sun appears upon the earth.
are only mentioned in one source, that of Gerald of Wales (Giraldus
Cambrensis) who was writing in the late 12th century. From the brief
and tantalising description, it seems that the Awenyddion were practicing
a kind of oracular seership. It seems that they were able to go into
trance states at will. It is interesting to compare this to the Scandinavian
practice of Seidr. But unfortunately, we have too little information
about the Awenyddion to do anything more than make educated guesses
about what their practices may have been like, or in what context they
the Welsh there are certain individuals called Awenyddion who behave
as if they are possessed... When you consult them about some problem,
they immediately go into a trance and lose control of their senses...
They do not answer the question put to them in a logical way. Words
stream from their mouths, incoherently and apparently meaningless and
lacking any sense at all, but all the same well expressed: and if you
listen carefully to what they say you will receive the solution to your
problem. When it is all over, they will recover from their trance, as
if they were ordinary people waking from a heavy sleep, but you have
to give them a good shake before they regain control of themselves...
and when they do return to their senses they can remember nothing of
what they have said in the interval... They seem to receive this gift
of divination through visions which they see in their dreams. Some of
them have the impression that honey or sugary milk is being smeared
on their mouths; others say that a sheet of paper with words written
on it is pressed against their lips. As soon as they are roused from
their trance and have come round from their prophesying, that is what
they say has happened...
information on the Awenyddion and the awen in Brythonic and Neo-Druidic
tradition, see Greywolf's article Awen
given to the collected writings of Iolo Morganwg
Doubtless, some of the material contained within is genuine, collected
during Morganwg's travels around Wales. However, much of the writings
are the product of his own inspired imagination and it is almost impossible
to extricate one from the other.
was first published in 1862, edited by John Williams ab Ithel, a Welsh
antiquarian. The writings were massively influential in the development
of modern druidry, noteably that practiced by OBOD (Order of Bards,
Ovates and Druids).
can be found online here
Book of Carmarthen
Book is said to have been produced by monks of the Augustinian Priory
of St John's in Carmarthen. The book is named for the colour of its
cover. Dating is difficult but it was probably written in the 1250's.
Some of the writings are obviously from the thirteenth century, but
other pieces are earlier.
the book concernes Myrddin - it includes the famous dialogue between
Myrddin and Taliesin, and the poem concerning the aftermath of the battle
of Arderydd, and Myrddin's life within the Caledonian Forest.
The Black Book of Carmarthen, trans M Pennar, Llanerch 1989 isbn0-947992-31-6
can be viewed online at the National Library of Wales site here
war leader of the Iceni, who led the uprising against the Roman government
of Britain in 60CE. Much has been written about Boudica,but surprisingly
the facts about her life are few, and come from the commentaries of
Tactitus and Dio Cassius.
the death of her husband Prasutagus, Boudica took the leadership of
the Iceni, illegally in Roman eyes. He had been a client-king, which
means that he kept pretty much independent leadership, but agreed to
keep his tribe peaceful and co-operative towards the Roman government.
In his will, he had left the leadership jointly to the Roman Emperor
(Nero) and his two daughters.
that Catus, the procurator who came to make an inventory of the Iceni
property, acted in an insenstive and inflammatory manner. As a result
of this, Boudica proclaimed herself ruler and challenged Roman authority.
She was flogged, her daughters raped, and Iceni property was confiscated.
and the Trinovantes rose up together and amassed a huge army. They sacked
Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium (Colchester, London and St Albans)
before being defeated by Paulinius. The ultimate fate of Boudica is
not known. Some say that she fled, others that she took poison rather
than be captured.
certain is that she captured the imagination of the public, remaining
one of our most popular figures to this day.
Goddesses', Miranda Green, British Museum Press 1997 isbn 0-7141-2312-9
of Winter, celebrated on November Eve. Also known as Hollantide and
Gwyl y Meirw. In Cornwall, the festival is sometimes known as Allantide,
and in Brittany as Kala Goañv.
modern Brythonic pagans, celebrations are akin to that of the Irish
Samhain - the emphasis on ancestors, remembering and honouring the dead.
Divination, feasting and hospitality. For our ancestors too, this was
a time of uncertainty, a time when protection from malign spirits was
necessary. Bonfires which were lit in Wales up into the 19th century
served this purpose, providing protection against horrors such as the
Hwch Ddu Gwta - Bobtailed Black Sow - or Y Ladi Wen - the White Lady.
Those who were to die in the coming year could be seen by peeping through
the church keyhole on November Eve.
Ireland and Scotland, it is customary to lay out food for the dead,
perhaps setting an extra place at the table. In Wales, this is known
as 'bwyd cennad y meirw' - food for the embassy of the dead - and in
Brittany as 'boued gouel an Anaon' - food for the feast of the dead.
there is a parallel custom of 'cennad y meirw' - deaths messenger. Cenhadon
y Meirw, often made up of the poor folk of the community, go from door
to door, chanting rhymes and begging for 'pice rhanna' - soul cakes.
The Cenhadon ate the cakes as representatives of the dead of each family.
Calan Gaeaf custom is for young folk in Wales to dress up in clothes
belonging to the opposite gender. These are called 'gwrachod' - hags/witches.
The custom seems typical of the role reversals and cross dressing which
is associated with this time and with Twelfth Night - both periods in
which the natural order of things is turned on its head during a time-between-times.
Calan Gaeaf dinner is 'stwmp naw rhyw' - mash of nine kinds. As might
be guessed, this has nine ingredients, potato, carrot, turnip, peas,
parsnip, leeks, salt, pepper and milk. Often, this dinner would be used
for divinatory purposes - a wedding ring would be hidden within. A similar
custom was recorded in Dyfed by Owen in 1959: "nine girls used
to make a pancake with nine ingredients in it..." again, this was
used for marriage divination. Another lovers divination recorded is
the belief that young people sewing hemp at a crossroads at night at
Calan Gaeaf could receive a vision of their future sweetheart.
Rituals, A. Kondratiev. New Celtic Publishing 1996, p. 109 - 113.
of Celtic Mythology, MacKillop. OUP 1998, p. 236 - 7.
to the Leabhar Gabhala, Cesair was the leader of the first group of
settlers to arrive in Ireland. At the time of the Biblical flood, she
set sail with a boatload of fifty women and three men. After arriving
in Ireland, two of the men died, leaving Fintan to serve the needs of
all the women. He fled and soon afterwards, Ireland was submerged in
a deluge. All the women, including Cesair, drowned. Fintan survived
by turning himself into a salmon.
- Celtic Women, P Berresford Ellis, Constable 1995
something like 'wood memorial' or 'wood learning'. The Coelbren is allegedly
an ancient alphabet akin to the Irish ogham. Indeed, it may well be,
but unfortunately no source earlier than Iolo Morgannwg
can be found and it is likely that the Coelbren was one of his inventions,
or at least, that it came out of the same period of Druidic revival.
are forty characters presently in the Coelbren alphabet. In appearance,
they are similar to runic characters, mostly being formed of lines coming
off a vertical stem. Like the ogham alphabet, these have a system of
kennings attached to them, which include tree names.
the dubious origins of the Coelbren, the system is not without value.
Though considered a forger, Iolo Morgannwg was a man who demonstrated
great insight into the ancient Bardic traditions and his 'forgeries'
are very much in the spirit of the old lore. And should the Coelbren
not predate him, then at the very least, we have a system that has been
in use for over three hundred years.
the forum thread on divination
and the Coelbren
article at the OBOD site.
example of a 'wooden book' of Coelbren here: Peithynen
Dewi Sant is now being acclaimed in some places on the internet as a
pagan god. In fact, he was of course, St David, now the patron saint
of Wales. He lived in the 6th century and was at one time Archbishop
of Wales. The stories of his life were not written until the 11th century
and are probably fictitious, being the standard tales of frugal living
and miracles. The City of St Davids in Pembrokeshire bears his name;
he is said to have been born nearby and to have founded the city in
more information on Dewi Sant, see BBC
were the intelligensia of Ancient Celtic society. They seem to have
fulfilled various roles such as priest, lawyer, advisor and doctor.
Strabo (Geographica lV, 4, 197-8) tells us that 'There were three classes
to whom special honour is paid, viz., the Bards, Uatis and the Druids'.
In practice, it seems that these classes were somewhat interchangeable
and that there was a close relationship between the three. However,
there would not have been a progressive training through the three classes,
as per the courses of some modern Druid orders.
have been many Druid revivals down the ages, noteably in the 18th century
by the likes of Iolo Morgannwg, who revived the
Eistedfoddau in 1792. The Ancient Order of Druids was founded in 1781.
In the main, these revivalists were Christian men, interested in the
discoveries of the antiquarians. However curious and incorrect their
theories were, we owe them a great debt, for their early efforts paved
the way for the next generation of Druids and scholars.
times, 'Druidry' has become immensely popular. In some cases, it is
as far from the practices of the Ancient Celts as were those of the
18th century and it draws from a wide range of influences and generic
neo-pagan practices. These days, a Druid may be a polytheist, working
with local Gods and spirits, digging deeply into the lore and myth of
the ancient Celts. Or at the other end of the spectrum, a Druid might
be a Christian, taking 'Druidic teachings' as a philosophic starting
point for exploring their own faith more deeply.
the Hosts. She appears in the tale Breuddwyd Macsen - The Dream of Macsen
Wledig. Macsen sees her in a dream and falls hopelessly in love with
her. "No more than it would be easy to look on the sun when it
is brightest, no easier would it be than to look on her by reason of
her excelling beauty." (Mabinogion, Jones and Jones)
goes on to tell us "Thereafter Elen thought to make high roads
from one stronghold to another across the Island of Britain. And the
roads were made. And for that reason they are called the Roads of Elen
of the Hosts..." These roads, named Sarn Helen, do exist, being
surviving Roman roads. However, 'Helen' is more likely to derive from
the word 'elin', meaning elbow or corner, as these roads are not straight.
This confusion has helped to give rise to the neo-pagan goddess 'Elen
of the Ways'.
is a suggestion that Elen Luyddog may have a historical reality. MacKillop
suggests that she is based upon Elen fab Eudaf, Eudaf being a British
chieftain who held Segontium. She has also been confused with (H)Elen,
mother to the Emperor Constantine, who entered Brythonic lore as the
daughter of Coel Hen.
son of King Gwyddno Garanhir. Gwyddno despaired of his son ever making
anything of himself and as a last resort, granted Elffin the annual
takings from their bountiful weir. Elffin's luck seemed to have run
badly again, for instead of the usual abundance of fish, the only thing
dredged up was a tattered leather bag. But Elffin looked inside and
found a beautiful child. Elffin cried out: 'behold, a radiant brow!'.
And so the child was known by this name, Taliesin, ever after. Taliesin
prophecied great fame and honour for Elffin in poems such as 'The Consolation
of Elffin and Taliesin himself was responsible in great part for securing
this future for Elffin.
story can be found in the Hanes Taliesin which is online here
of Arthur's Kitchen) One of five wells in Wales names after Arthur,
this one is at Llanddeiniolen in Caernarfon. The well is said to have
an oily substance floating on top, and this was supposed to be the grease
left behind after Arthur's washing up had been done. The well is a Chalybeate
spring and in the 18th and 19th centuries, it became popular as a spa,
with ruins of the spa house still visible. See this photograph at Geograph.
Sadly, the lovely tale of greasy washing up doesn't appear to be the
original meaning of the name - in this instance is seems that 'Cegin'
refers to the ridge close to the well.
in Depth by Tristan Gray Hulse for a fascinating article on this
and other holy wells.
method of satire. A description has come down to us from the Book of
Ballymote, where it is used to satirise a King who refuses the proper
reward for a poem. It was a crime to prevent the satire after this reward
had been denied.
took place on the land of the King. (This was common procedure when
enforcing a claim or making known a grievance.)
proceedings are sanctioned by a council made up of thirty laymen, thirty
bishops and thirty poets.
Ollamh, (in this instance, the initial poem had been made by this Ollamh.
It is not clear whether the Ollamh would always take this role) along
with six other poets on whom the Six Degrees of poetry had been conferred,
went at sunrise to a hilltop on the boundary of seven lands.
faced towards his own land, with the face of the Ollamh towards the
land of the King that he was to satirise. Their backs were to be to
a hawthorn tree that should be growing atop the hill.
wind had to be coming from the North.
slingstone and a thorn from the tree were held in the hand of each poet.
Each poet sang a stave in a prescribed metre into the stone and thorn,
beginning with the Ollamh.
stones and the thorns were placed at the base of the tree.
the poets were in the wrong, the earth would swallow them up.
the King was in the wrong, he would be swallowed up, along with his
wife, his son, his horses, his arms, his hound and his dress.
of the Mac Fuírmed* fell on the hound
of the Fochloc on the dress
of the Doss upon the arms
of the Cano on the wife
of the Cli upon the son
of the Anradh on the land
curse of the Ollamh on the King himself.
following are the names of the various bardic degrees.
and Enchanters in Early Irish Literature' by FN Robinson. From 'Studies
in the History of Religion', reprinted in 'The Bardic Sourcebook' ed.
John Matthews, pub Blandford 1998 isbn 0-7137-2664-4
Guest was a remarkable woman who lead a fascinating life. A short biography
is online at Data
Wales . Her Mabinogion collection was first published in 1838, produced
with the help of bards such as John Jones and Thomas Price, who translated
the Medieval texts into Modern Welsh to enable Lady Guest's translation
into English. The problems with her text are mostly due to the sensibilities
of the time in which she wrote. Sexual references in particular, have
been ironed out, as gloriously shown at the Digital
Medievalist . Regardless of these problems, her contribution was
hugely important. She was the first to bring the tales, in accessible
form, into the English language, at a time when the Welsh culture was
highly fashionable among the educated classes in England. She is also
responsible for the name 'Mabinogion', which she had understood, wrongly,
to be the plural of 'mabinogi'. Her translation is still the best known
and has been reprinted countless times, noteably in a beautiful edition
with illustrations by Alan Lee.
of Math ap Mathonwy, the brother of Gilfaethwy and Arianrhod. In the
story 'Math ap Mathonwy', Gwydion is a magician, getting the upper hand
through cunning and trickery. He is responsible for bringing up Lleu,
the son of Arianrhod and for performing the rites of passage necessary
for Lleu to become a man. He tricks Arianrhod into bestowing a name
and weapons upon Lleu and creates for him a wife of flowers, Bloddeuwedd.
This episode is also recounted in the poem 'Cad Goddeu', during which
Gwydion also enchants the trees so that they become warriors.
Gilfaethwy are punished by Math for the rape of his footholder Goewin.
Math turns the brothers into a stag and hind, a boar and sow, and a
wolf and she-wolf. Three children are produced from this union, Bleiddwn,
Hychdwn Hir and Hyddwnn.
Goddeu and Math
Meirw - see Calan Gaeaf
- see Calan Gaeaf
the most infamous names of the 18th century druid revival, Iolo Morganwg's
name is guaranteed to provoke reaction whenever mentioned. You
will find a mixture of admiration, gratitude and total frustration.
Gratitude because before him, the old Welsh literature and lore was
not valued and much was being lost, mouldering away in forgotten manuscripts.
Without his interest and dedication, we would have far less surviving.
He also rekindled the pride of the Brythonic folk in their own traditions.
among other things (such as the collections of folk songs which started
to be made), led to all things Welsh being en vogue in high society
for a time.
because he was so well versed and skilled in Brythonic poetry and traditions
that his... additions... (being polite!) are indistinguishable from
the 'real' thing. Perhaps in making his additions, he was following
a practice that was common among bards. We know that he did visit private
libraries and make notes from manuscripts that were dropping to pieces,
so it is conceivable that some of the stuff for which there is no other
evidence is genuine. But there is no way of telling in some cases. And
total frustration because of all of the above. On the one hand, we wouldn't
have much of this information if he hadn't collected it. But on the
other, it is almost impossible to disentangle his additions from the
older material, making his notes almost useless for anyone seeking the
'genuine' bardic traditions.
was born Edward Williams in 1794 at Pennon in Glamorgan. He grew up
with Welsh as his second language, and was taught Early and Middle Welsh
by John Walters. This inspired his love of the early bardic material,
which he began to incorporate into his own poetry. He spent much of
his time walking throughout Wales, collecting letters and manuscripts
that would become the Barddas collection. He also sent some of his own
poetry to the London Welsh, a group of exiled Welsh authors. He claimed
that these were the work of Dafydd ap Gwilim. Their 'discovery' made
Iolo famous and they were only uncovered as forgeries in the 20th century.
from the collection entitled 'Barddas', which
has continued to inspire modern druid traditions to this day, he is
most famous for his creation of the Gorsedd of Bards. The The 'Gorsedd
Prayer' was composed by him (Grant O God, Thy protection etc.) and is
still used in OBOD and other neo-Druid ceremonies. The first Gorsedd
was held on Primrose Hill in London during 1792. The official language
of the Gorsedd was English; however, there was later a split between
those who wanted the ceremonies to remain in English and those who wished
to move towards Cymraeg. The Gorsedd of Bards later became intrinsically
linked with the Welsh Eisteddfod competitions.
supposed to have come to Britain, where he planted his staff atop a
hill. The staff took root, becoming a thorn tree. The hill became the
place of the first Christian church in Britain, Glastonbury. The current
Glastonbury Thorn is a child of the original tree. Another legend says
that Joseph also brought the Chalice of the Last Supper to Glastonbury
and buried it beneath the Chalice Well, hence the waters run red with
the blood of Christ.
seems to date back to the eighteenth century, a time that saw the Druid
revivals, a period in which Britain was keen to find a native spirituality
within the Christian tradition.
information, see The Book of Druidry, Ross Nichols. Thorsons 1992
interesting character and the patron saint of Glasgow. He is also known
as St Mungo (a nickname meaning 'dear friend'). He lived from c.518
to 612, a time when Christianity was establishing itself in Britain.
Kentigern was a very interesting character, said by some to be the great-nephew
of King Arthur and merged by others into the Myrddin tales. He is said
to have been the illegitamate child of of Owein, King of North Rheged,
and Thaney, a princess of Gododdin.
a young boy, Kentigern was left in charge of the sacred fires at Saint
Serf's monastery. Kentigern was unpopular with the other boys and
while he slept, they secretly put the fires out. Kentigern woke in
the morning and was horrified to see the fires cold. He had no means
to kindle another flame, but he went outside and plucked a hazel branch.
He prayed for help and the little branch burst into flames, so he
was able to rekindle the sacred fires.
among others attributed to Kentigern, made up the imagery for Glasgow's
coat of arms (here, the hazel has become an oak, presumably for artistic
reasons) and is commemorated in a rhyme taught to school children:
the bird that never flew
It is the tree that never grew
It is the bell that never rang
It is the fish that never swam .
that hazel tree, from which the little branch was separated, received
a blessing from Saint Kentigern, and afterwards it began to grow wild
into a little grove. Indeed, as the country people say, if from that
hazel grove even the greenest little branch is taken, it kindles as
the most driest wood when fire licks at it up to this day, and being
struck by a small breath, through the merit of the saint, it scatters
from itself sparks of flame."
is a short biography of Kentigern at Early
British Kingdoms and an indepth look at his legends by Cynthia Whidden
Green at the Medieval
Man, nicknamed Pete Marsh by the British media, is one of the most famous
bog bodies in the world. This is not because his preservation is particularly
unusual - he is one of 236 bog bodies from various periods that have
been found in Britain. Lindow Man achieved instant fame due to the seemingly
unusual and brutal death that he suffered. He appears to have been struck
on the back of the head, garotted and his throat cut. It has been claimed
by some, such as Anne Ross in her book 'The Life and Death of a Druid
Prince', that Lindow Man underwent a 'triple death', and that this,
among other evidence, showed him to have been a human sacrifice. However,
her theories are speculative to say the least, and many academics have
not been convinced. Some claim that the 'garotte' is actually a necklace
that has shrunk and tightened over time. Others, that his injuries could
easily have been post mortem.
information on Lindow Man, see:
from the Bog
My Name's Fox? (PDF)
Man was a Simple Murder Victim
Bodies in the Bog - A Reading List
is a collection of old British tales. The stories are drawn from two
Welsh manuscripts, the Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest) and
the Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (White Book of Rhydderch). The Red Book dates
from around 1375 - 1425 CE, the White Book from 1300 - 1325 CE. Some
of the tales are also found in another manuscript that dates from about
a century before the White Book.
itself is a modern title, used by Lady Charlotte Guest for her translations
from the Red Book and the Hanes Taliesin. She had understood the word
to be the pural form of 'Mabinogi' (which means something like 'youth',
later taking the meaning of a tale of youth or heroics). However, the
name is now too well established and convenient for it to be worth correction.
consists of The Four Branches of Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan and Math.
Two short pieces - 'The Dream of Macsen Wledig' and 'Lludd and Llefelys'.
The Dream of Rhonabwy, a nostalgic and humourous tale, Culhwch and Olwen,
which has rightly been described as "incomparable and unclassifiable"
and finally, three later Arthurian romances.
from Gwyn Jones' introductory notes to The Mabinogion, Jones and Jones,
Everyman 1989. isbn 0-460-87066-1
source concerning Mabon ap Modron is the tale Culhwch and Olwen. In
order to win the hand of Olwen, Culhwch and his cousin Arthur must fulfill
a series of near impossible tasks, including getting the comb and shears
which are between the ears of the fearsome boar Twrch Trwth. In order
to hunt the only dog which can catch the boar, they must rescue Mabon
ap Modron, "who was taken away when three nights old from his mother.
Where he is is unknown, or what his state is, whether alive or dead."
The Five Elders of the World lead the company to Mabon ap Modron, who
has been imprisoned in Caer Loyw near Gloucester.
is often portrayed in modern pagan texts as an innocent child. But Culhwch
ac Olwen makes it clear that he is in fact a grown man, and the most
skilled hunter in Britain, the only man who can hunt with the hound
Drudwen. He is also a fearless fighter, retrieving the shears from the
ears of Twrch Trwth himself. His glory is second only to that of Arthur.
literally means 'Divine Son, son of the Divine Mother' (the -on suffix
usually denotes divinity) and thus is clearly a title. Whether Mabon
had other names is now unknown. However, the title is accepted to be
cognate with that of the god Maponos, to whom shrines are found in both
Britain and Gaul. MacKillop says that there is a possible inscription
at Chamalieres in France and there is a shrine to 'Deo Mapono' at Chesterholm
in Northumberland. There are also mentions of 'Apollo Maponus', and
according to MacKillop, (though this isn't referenced), Maponus was
"often linked with the Gaulish Apollo, especially Apollo Citharoedus."
that Modron be equated with Rhiannon and thus Pryderi with Mabon. Indeed,
there is a similar theme of a son stolen from his mother, though of
course, Pryderi is not imprisoned, and I am not sure what this theory
is based upon, aside from the 'lost son' similarity to the tale. It
is also suggested that Mabon is one and the same as Aengus
Oc (Mac ind Oc).
is another reference to Mabon in the poem Pa Gur. This text is particularly
interesting for the mention of two Mabons - Mabon ap Modron and Mabon
ap Mellt. (Mabon son of Lightning) It has been suggested that the text
may have become confused, and that these two Mabons are the same person.
Mellt could be the father of Mabon, making a comparison between Mabon
and Apollo, who was sired by Zeus of the thunderbolts, but this is purely
ap Modron is also mentioned in the Trioedd Ynys Prydein, in which he
is one of the Three Exalted Prisoners of the Island of Britain. (The
others being Llyr Half-Speech, Gwair ap Geirioedd and Arthur. As in
all the best triads, there are four of them.)
Jones and Jones. Everyman 1989.
Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, MacKillop. OUP 1998.
Trioedd Ynys Prydein, online
in the Mabinogion tale 'Breuddwyd Macsen' as the Emperor of Rome. He
dreams of the beautiful maiden Elen and he travels
to Britain in search of her. He remains there with Elen for seven years,
whereupon Rome elects herself a new Emperor. Macsen is furious and sets
out for Rome, conquering France and Burgundy before laying siege to
Rome, eventually taking the city with the help of Elen's brothers Cynan
ap Eudaf and Gadeon ap Eudaf.
is some evidence to suggest that Macsen was a historical person, the
Spaniard Maximus Clemens who was Emperor of Rome between 383-8CE. He
was held as a hero by the British for helping them to overthrow Gratian
in 383CE. He is mentioned by both Gildas and Nennius and is claimed
as an ancestor by many noble and ecclesiastical families. Maximus was
indeed married to Elen Luyddog.
Jones and Jones. Everyman 1989.
of Celtic Mythology, MacKillop. OUP 1998.
complex character who sits between myth and history. Each age has seen
his re-invention. For most people, he is the archetypal wizard, now
inextricably linked with King Arthur. It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who
gave us the name 'Merlin', in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History
of the Kings of Britain) which was published c.1138. He later published
the 'Vita Merlini', expanding and sometimes contradicting his earlier
writings. The Vita Merlini is online
that Myrddin is a historical figure, a sixth century bard. But even
here, the threads of myth and fact are woven so tight, that it is hard
to know where one begins and another ends. The 'historical' Myrddin
was said to live wild in the Caledonian Forest, having gone mad after
seeing his nephew slain at the battle of Arfderydd (c. 573CE). But identical
legends are told of a man named Lailoken, and it might be that these
tales were attached to Myrddin at a much later date.
some have suggested that Myrddin is the mythical founder of Caer Fyrddin
- (modern Carmarthen) and as such, is purely a figure made up to explain
the place name. Indeed, the harder one looks for Myrddin, the more he
disappears into shadows. Yet, he is still one of the most important
figures within the Brythonic traditions.
are several poems attributed to Myrddin, three of which are found within
the Black Book of Carmarthen and two of
which are included within our Bardic section: Birches
and The Lament
of Myrddin in his Grave
interest are the following links: Myrddin
which gives a good summary of the Myrddin lore, and Concerning
the Name Myrddin which explores the Caer Fyrddin link.
century chronicler famous for writing the 'Historia Brittonum', a history
of Britain from earliest times. And that simple statement hides a wealth
of complexity. First of all, we have no idea who 'Nennius' was, or if
he even existed. Secondly, he may not have written the Historia Brittonum.
There are many different versions of the text (roughly eleven main sources
which form five major groupings). The earliest of these is dated c.900,
while the latest are from the 13th century. The author is not named
in all of these. Whoever did write the original text seems to have compiled
a huge amount of old sources, and it's speculated that some of these
might date back to the 5th century. However, the compilation is completely
indiscriminate and is a huge mess of contradiction, inaccuracy and fable,
rather than being a history as we would understand it today.
Brittonum is one of the earliest texts to speak of King Arthur, listing
his twelve battles against the Saxon invaders. It speaks of the ill
fated Vortigern, the British King who hired Saxons to fight for him
against Picts and other enemies, but who betrayed him and began the
Germanic invasions. It is Nennius who describes the boy Ambrosius revealing
the fighting dragons beneath Vortigern's fort. These tales are an important
part of British mythology, regardless of whether we regard them as factual
discussion on the different versions, see the excellent Vortigern
Historia Brittonum text, see the Medieval
is an ancient Irish alphabet, which like the runes, is now often used
as a system of divination. The earliest Ogham inscriptions appear c.
4CE. The ogham alphabet is based on the Latin and consists of twenty
letters divided into four groups. The bulk of the ogham inscriptions
are found in Ireland, though they also appear throughout Britain, predominantly
in Wales, where there were sizeable Irish settlements. Most of the inscriptions
are carved into stone and are boundary markers or memorials. It is likely
that ogham was also inscribed upon less permanent materials that have
not come down to us.
thought of as the 'Tree Alphabet', ogham is actually a complex system
of correspondences and kennings. This probably allowed conversation
in veiled terms that would have sounded like gibberish to the those
without knowledge of the system. Robert Graves used his highly individual
interpretation of the ogham to develop the Tree Calender, his own invention.
Although his ideas on the ogham owe more to fantasy than scholarly research,
he remains one of the primary influences on ogham lore in modern times.
good overview and bibliography, see the Dictionary of Celtic Mythology,
J McKillop, OUP 1998 isbn 0-19-869157-2
Historial figure who features in several British myths. The historical
Owain was the son of Urien of Rheged, as attested in the poetry of the
6th century Taliesin.
In mythology, Owain appears in several Mabinogion tales - 'Peredur',
'Rhonabwy's Dream' and is the hero of 'The Lady of the Fountain'. He also
appears seven times in the Trioedd Ynys Prydein and was clearly a figure
of importance in medieval British mythology. We can only suppose
Cat is found in the Trioedd
Ynys Prydein , where it appears in Triad 26, Three Powerful Swineherds
of the Island of Britain. Both versions of the triad (from Peniarth
MS. 16, the earlier source, and the White Book of Rhydderch) are lengthy
and relate the womb burden of the magical sow Henwen. The Peniarth MS
from thence she went to the Black Stone in Llanfair in Arfon, and
there she brought forth a kitten; and Coll son of Collfrewy threw
that kitten into the Menai. And she was afterwards Palug's Cat."
Books tells us more of the tale:
at Llanfair in Arfon under the Black Rock she brought forth a kitten,
and the Powerful Swineherd (ie. Coll) threw it from the rock into
the sea. And the sons of Palug fostered it in Mon, to their own harm:
and that was Palug's Cat, and it was one of the Three Great Oppressions
of Mon, nurtured therein. The second was Daronwy and the third was
Edwin, king of Lloegr."
Cat also appears in the poem Pa Gur, from the Black
Book of Carmarthen which is tantalisingly incomplete. It breaks
off at the point where Cai is fighting Cath Palug:
the fair went to Mona,
To devastate Llewon.
shield was ready
Against Cath Palug
When people welcomed him.
pierced the Cath Palug?
Nine score before dawn
Would fall for its food.
Nine score chieftains..."
of the text can be found online here
Celtic languages, which in modern times are Irish, Scottish Gaelic and
Manx. The Q branch of the Celtic languages (as opposed to the 'P' branch)
is the older of the two types and refers to the 'q' sound retained at
the start of words such as the Irish 'ceann', as compared to the Welsh
'pen' both meaning 'head'. The letter 'q' itself is not found in Celtic
languages, existing only in borrowed words.
- 'Dictionary of Celtic Mythology' J McKillop, OUP 1998 isbn 0-19-869157-2
as the centre-piece of the Irish Ulster Cycle.
It is the story of a cattle raid carried out by Medb of Connaught. She
invades Ulster in her attempt to capture Donn Cualigne - the Brown Bull
of Cualigne - so that her possessions will not be outdone by her husband,
who owns the great white bull Finnbennach. Opposing them is the great
hero CuChulainn, who singlehandedly drives back the armies of Ulster.
of the Tain survived in two main manuscripts, the Lebor na hUidre (Book
of the Dun Cow) which was compiled in the twelfth century, and the Yellow
Book of Lecan which dates from the fourteenth. However, the language
of the story seems to place it in the eighth century and some scholars
think that some of the passages may date to two centuries before that.
from the Introduction of Thomas Kinsella's translation of The Tain,
the best known of the Brythonic bards. His poetry survives in two main
manuscripts, both of which are kept in the National Library of Wales.
These are the Llyfr Taliesin (Book of Taliesin) and the Hanes (or Ystoria)
Taliesin (History or Story of Taliesin).
Taliesin is a 14th century manuscript of what seems to be authentic
6th century poetry. The Hanes Taliesin is a collection of manuscripts
that seem to have been brought together in the 16th century, and it
is in this collection that the more 'mystical' stuff is found. Academics
think that much of this was written much later and attributed to Taliesin
- or that there were two bards of the same name. The Hanes Taliesin
is the source for the famous story of Cerridwen and her cauldron, which
some have suggested is a mythical account of bardic initiation.
century Taliesin may have originally been from Powys, suggested by his
poem to Cynan Garwyn, a lord of that place. But the bulk of his writings
are praise poems for Urien of Rheged, (which stretched from modern Cumbria
up to Ayr and possibly across to Catterick) There are also poems for
Urien's son Owain and for Gwallawg, lord of Elfed (close to what is
now the city of Leeds)
- Pennar, M. Taliesin Poems, Llanerch 1988
Taliesin and Who
'The Land of Youth'. The best known of the Irish Otherworlds.
one of the places said to have been populated by the Tuatha de Danaan
after their defeat by the Sons of Mil. It appears in various poems and
stories, including 'Laoi Oisín i dTír na nÓg' (The Lay of Oisín in the
Land of Youth) and the Imram Brain (Voyage of Bran).
often thought of as being situated to the west of Ireland, and referred
to as 'The Land Beyond the West'. There are other places said to be
its entrance, including Liscannor Bay , Rathlin Island and a cave on
from 'Dictionary of Celtic Mythology' J McKillop, OUP 1998 isbn 0-19-869157-2
the four branches of Irish mythology. (The others being the 'Mythological
Cycle', the 'Fenian Cycle' and the 'Historical Cycle')
of the Ulster Cycle centre around the warriors of King Conchobar of
Ulster, with Cuchulainn being the foremost of these. The tales are primarily
heroic. They feature warriors, tests of skill, honour and prestige.
The background to many of the tales is the rivalry between Ulster and
Connaught, typified in the most well known tale of this cycle, the Tain
tales are 'The Pig of Mac Dathó' and 'The Feast of Bricriu'.
information, see Celtic Heritage, A&B Rees. Pub Thames and Hudson
1961 isbn 0-500-27039-2
at the Ford
theme in Celtic mythologies. The Washer may be beautiful or ugly, and
is seen washing bloody linen. To see her is unlucky, portending battle,
or a death in the community, usually of the person who has witnessed
her. In the Irish stories, the Morrigan sometimes takes on the role,
washing the weapons of the heroes who were about to die.
- Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, J. MacKillop, OUP 1998