The following list of deities is by no means exhaustive. Instead, it is inclusive only of those divine personages I personally deemed the most important, and so must be considered a representative sampling of the rich store of names and attributes found embedded in Romano-British inscriptions, early Welsh poems and prose compilations such as the Mabinogion. [NOTE: References to chapters indicate selections taken from my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON. Some supposition as to worship and ritual practice has been added to the general descriptions for the sake of those of a "neopagan" disposition.]
The Goddesses of Avalon
The nine sisters placed on Avalon by Geoffrey of Monmouth are known Irish goddesses. I have identified these sisters as follows:
Geoffrey’s Nine Sisters Irish Goddesses
Moronoe Muireann, mother of
Fionn mac Cumhail
(Imona / Emain)
Gliton Clidna triplicated
Tyronoe Tuireann, sister of
Muireann or Fionn’s
(the –ch- is silent),
mother of Cuchulainn
duplicated and wrongly
linked to Irish tet, theoit,
teoid, ted, ‘harp-string’
The argument has been made for Morgen – the later Morgan le Fay or Morgan ‘the Fairy’ – being a native Welsh goddess. However, not a single source mentions such a goddess prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin. The Morgens found in an early Welsh genealogy featuring Glast, a fictional eponymous founder of Glastonbury, are male princes and cannot, therefore, be Morgen.
Geoffrey describes Morgen thusly:
“The one who is first among them has greater skill in healing, as her beauty surpasses that of her sisters. Her name is Morgen, and she has learned the uses of all plants in curing the ills of the body. She knows, too, the art of changing her shape, of flying through the air, like Daedalus, on strange wings. At will, she is now at Brest, now at Chartres, now at Pavia; and at will she glides down from the sky on to your shores. They say she had taught astrology to her sisters…”
The bird-form assumed by Morgen is, of course, the crow aspect of the Irish Morrigan, the ‘Spirit-Queen’. And there is now no reason to doubt that Geoffrey merely substituted the familiar Welsh name Morgen for Morrigan. The Morrigan was the preeminent battle goddess of the ancient Irish, but she is also known for being present at the death of the greatest of the Irish heroes, Cuchulainn. This last fact may have been Geoffrey’s inspiration for having Morgen appear to ferry away the dying Arthur. ‘The Morrigan’, as she was sometimes referred to, also tried to seduce Cuchulainn and this sexual motif may have contributed to Morgan le Fay’s sleeping with her brother, Arthur (see ‘Anu’ in Chapter 6).
The Spirit-Queen resided not in Emain Ablach, but in the frightful Otherworld Cave of Cruachan at Rathcroghan near Tulsk, Co. Roscommon. Of course, all otherworlds are Avalon, which could be a place of both dread and delight, emotions engendered in us by our conflicting view of places of burial as both houses for the dead and portals to the happy afterlife. For anyone who has ever ventured into an ancient passage grave, the sensation of exposure to numinous power is evident. Apprehension and anticipation go hand in hand when exploring these kinds of funeral monuments.
Muireann was the mother of Fionn and the divine wife of Cumhail, i.e. the god Camulos (see Chapter 6). Fionn and his fiana or ‘warrior band’ are in many ways the Irish counterpart of Arthur and his champions. The word fiana contains the same ancient root as Latin venatio, ‘hunting’, and so we find Fionn as Gwyn the mighty hunter in the Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen. In Welsh tradition, Gwyn became the lord of the Otherworld.
Macha (see Imona in Chapter 6) was an important Irish horse goddess. We have seen above that Emain Ablach belonged to her.
The goddess Clidna was worshipped in Co. Cork. She came from Tir Tairngire or the ‘Land of Promise’, a designation for the Otherworld, and she owned three magical birds that ate apples from a sacred tree. We may compare these birds with those belonging to the Welsh goddess, Rhiannon.
Tyronoe is Tuireann or Uirne, variously the sister of Muireann or Fionn’s sister, whom has a spell cast upon her while she is pregnant which transforms her into a bitch. She gives birth to twin hounds, Bran and Sceolang, who become Fionn’s prized hunting dogs.
Dechtine, the mother of Cuchulainn by Lugh Lamhfota or Lugh of the Long-hand, is said to come from the Newgrange passage grave on the Boyne, an Otherworld house that belonged to Aonghus Og or Mac Og, the Irish equivalent of the Welsh Mabon the Divine Son.
What are we to make of the fact that Geoffrey of Monmouth inhabited Arthur’s Avalon with Irish goddesses? Some would doubtless say that this was proof that Avalon was a concept borrowed from the Irish. Others would go even further and claim that if Avalon has as its denizens Irish goddesses, then Avalon itself must be an Irish island.
I would counter both of these statements by saying that none of the Irish sources place all of these goddesses on Avalon. In fact, only Macha (= Imona) is expressly associated with the Isle of Apple-trees. It seems fairly certain, therefore, that Geoffrey selected these various goddesses from disparate Irish sources because he lacked the names of corresponding British goddesses. The existence of the Irish goddesses was known to him and so it was convenient to have them preside over Arthur’s Otherworld-island.
However, having said this, it is true that Geoffrey’s Avalon goddesses remind us to an uncanny degree of the Gallizenas of the island of Sena, modern Ile de Sein, off Pointe du Raz on the western coast of Brittany, mentioned by Pomponius Mela in c. 40 CE:
“Sena in the British sea, opposite the Ossismician coast, is remarkable for an oracle of the Gallic God. Its priestesses, holy in perpetual virginity, are said to be nine in number. They are called Gallizenas, and are thought to be endowed with singular powers, so as to raise by their charms the winds and seas, to turn themselves into what animals they will, to cure wounds and diseases incurable by others, to know and predict the future; but this they do only to navigators who go thither purposely to consult them.”
Various origins for the term Gallizenas have been sought, but I think none of them very satisfactory. This is, rather transparently, a form of Old Irish caillech or caillechan, ‘crone, elderly woman, hag, witch’, but also ‘nun’, as the word originally meant ‘veiled one’. And if I am right, then the placement of this island off the coast of Brittany is likely an error for Inis Cathach, modern Scattery Island at the mouth of the Shannon River in Ireland. Shannon or Sionainn is a river-goddess name. It comes from *seno-ona and means ‘Old Goddess’. Sena, the ancient name of the Ile de Sein, would appear to have the same root (cf. Senuna, Sena, Senua, as a goddess name on votive plaques found near Baldock, Hertfordshire).
The island of Inis Cathach was taken over by the Christian Saint Senan (whose own name, probably not coincidentally, is a diminutive of the same root found in Sionainn and means ‘old’) in the 6th century. A strict misogynist rule was imposed that no woman could ever set foot on the island. This was doubtless a Christian reaction to the fact that pagan priestesses or caillechan had once inhabited the place.
A couple of interesting legends regarding pagan worship by priestesses on Scattery Island have been preserved. First in importance is that which concerns the péist (‘beast’) ‘Cata’ or Cathach, a water monster similar to the female Caoranach of Lough Derg. St. Senan (about 500 CE) found this monster dwelling on Scattery Island. The Cata devoured the saint’s smith, Narach, but Senan brought him forth again alive. In the subsequent combat between priest and péist, the latter advanced with ‘its eyes flashing flame, with fiery breath, spitting venom and opening its horrible jaws,’ but Senan made the sign of the cross, and the beast collapsed, was chained and then thrown into Doolough near Mount Callan (the black lake, ‘Nigricantis aquae juxta montem Callain in Tuamonia’). In the oldest (metrical) Life of Senan, the péist appears as the ‘immanis bellua’ (monstrous beast) or ‘bestia,’ while Iniscatha is rendered ‘Belluanam Insulam’ (island of the beast). The legend is alluded to even in the late eighth-century Calendar of Oengus under March 8th, ‘Senan of Inis Cathaig gibbeted Naroch’s foe.’ The story is remembered widely, and among all classes at Scattery and along both banks of the river, at Kilkee, Kilmihil, and round Doolough and Miltown Malbay. In the fifteenth-century details of the ‘Cathedral’ of Scattery a large-eyed dragon with crocodile jaws is conspicuous; there was another carving at Kilrush; and a third, - the ‘pattern-stone’ removed from Scattery and until lately at Kilkee,—showed the Cata as ‘the amphibious beast of this blessed Isle,’ a nondescript creature with spiked back, scales, fish tail, nose curling up spirally, and clawed forefeet.
After Senan had expelled the Cathach, a local chieftain called MacTail, or Mactal, hired a druid to put a spell on the saint. However, as the druid landed on a nearby island, a tidal wave enveloped him and swept him to his death. The island is still pointed out as ‘Carraig a Draoi’ or The Druid’s Rock. It lies between Hog Island and Scattery, and can be seen at low tide.
The ‘Lady’s Grave’ is found at the low tide mark to the west of Rinn Eanaigh. It is said to cover the grave of a young lady called Connara whose advances Senan had repulsed. Connara is described as an Irish princess or the ‘holy nun’ who founded the convent of Cill na gCailleach (Church of the Caillech) on the side of Poulnasherry Bay on the mainland.
In Chapter 13, we will examine the nine Otherworld goddesses who appear in the early Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwn. These goddesses are the keepers of a magical cauldron, the prototype of the later Holy Grail.
The Lady of the Lake
We have seen above that the Arthurian ‘Lady of the Lake’ was, in reality, Dea Latis of the Avalon Roman fort at Burgh-By-Sands, Cumbria. But later Arthurian romance would further identify her as Niviane or Viviane. Where did the French romance authors get this name for the lake goddess?
In Welsh tradition, Nyfain (variants Nyuein, Nyven, Nevyn) daughter of Brychan is the name given to the mother of Urien. This Brychan is said to be the famous Irish chieftain known to have founded the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog and to have fathered eleven sons and twenty-four daughters. However, there was also a Northern Brychan, whom the Welsh sources associate with a Manaw, supposedly either Manau Gododdin at the head of the Firth of Forth, or the Manau that was the Isle of Man. The tomb of this Northern Brychan is either on an island called the Island of Brychan, which is near or bordering on Manaw, or is at a place called the Valley of Brychan within Manaw itself.
No satisfactory site has been identified fitting these descriptions. However, as Gaelic corrie means ‘valley’, the Valley of Brychan is certainly an error for the Coire or ‘Cauldron’ of Breccan, i.e. the Corrievreckan, the name of a whirlpool situated between the Inner Hebridean islands of Jura and Scarba. Today this location is marked on maps by the Gulf of Corryvreckan.
In the Metrical Dindshenchas (Part 18), we are told the following about Breccan’s fate in the whirlpool:
“No generous chieftain that reached it ever returned hither again from its white-paven floor, since Breccán of Bérre went his way.
Breccán son of Partholan, that seer of old, drank no wholesome draught: he was drowned here with his fifty ships by the crowding waves of the whirlpool.
I know the tale sages tell of the mighty whirlpool's home, whence comes, to denote it perpetually, the familiar name and its clear reason.
I have heard of famous Breccán, whose is the loud-roaring grave—him that enriched every hearth of Uí Néill, busily plying in his vessel a brisk trade.
Breccán son of Maine, rich in graces, the Cauldron drowned with its red spray, and he lies under the heavy high-piled strand with his ship and his valiant following.
Though it has buried unforgotten Breccán, his name endures in story with his bark and its burthen that lie beneath the whirlpool's stormy water.”
Maine was a son of Niall, and so this tale provides the names of different Breccans whose names became attached to the whirlpool. I would suggest that the name Maine here accounts for the ‘Manaw’ associated with the Northern Brychan in the Welsh sources.
The Corrievreckan is also linked to the Cailleach, the goddess in her aged form, and is considered to be a portal to the Otherworld.
Nyfain’s name cannot, as some have thought, be an eponym for the ancient Novantae tribe, whose territory (roughly Dumfries and Galloway) was ruled over by Urien. The identification is etymologically impossible. But the name could very easily represent the Irish goddess Nemhain. Nemhain was one of the premiere battle-goddesses of Ireland, and was often paired with Macha, Morrigan and Badb.
In the Vulgate Merlin, the forest name of the Lady of the Lake is first given as the Forest of Briosque and only later as Broceliande, the name used by Chretien de Troyes. While Broceliande has been sought in various places, none of the candidates work geographically or etymologically. I would derive the Old French ‘Briosque’ from the –fries component of Dumfries, the town situated just West-Southwest of Lochmaben in Dumfriesshire. While once thought to be the ‘Fort of the Frisians’, authorities now correctly identify –fries with Gaelic preas, Angl. Pres(s), gen. phris, Angl. –fries, gen. pl. preas, (b)p(h)reasach, ‘bush, copse, thicket’. Spellings such as Dunfreisch, Droonfreisch, and Drumfriesche occasionally occur in old documents.
It makes a great deal of sense to envisage Merlin and Viviane in the Dumfries region, as this was the home stomping grounds of Myrddin, the Welsh prototype for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Merlin. Broceliande, then, is simply Briosque + land.
In the context of any discussion of Myrddin and Nemhain in southwest Scotland, it is necessary to mention the Locus Maponi or ‘place of [the god] Maponus’, identifiable with Lochmaben in Dumfries (or perhaps the Ladyward Roman fort near Lochmaben, or even with the Clochmabenstane just south at Gretna Green; see the listing for Mabon in Chapter 6). As is well known, Mabon was the son of Modron, i.e. Matrona, the Divine Mother. This is the same Modron who is presented as the wife of Urien, son of Nyfain/Nemhain. [There is a strong probability the “stone” under which Merlin was imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake in Broceliande is none other than the Clochmabenstane. Her “lake” may have been at nearby Lochmaben.]
While it is tempting to give Modron the Divine Mother the name Nemhain, we are not justified in making this assumption. And, indeed, given the proximity of Lochmaben to the Annan River, and the presence of a St. Ann’s on a tributary of the Annan which has its confluence with the latter river at Lochmaben, it makes more sense to associate Modron/Matrona ‘the Divine Mother’ with a British version of the Irish goddess Anu. Annan is the genitive of anau, cognate with Welsh anaw ‘riches’, Gaelic Anu the name of the Irish goddess of prosperity. Geoffrey of Monmouth made this goddess, in the guise of ‘Anna’, the sister of Arthur.
For Nefyn or Nemhain in the early Welsh poem Cad Godeu, see the listing for Achren in Chapter 6.
The Horned God
At the very heart of the kingdom of the Carvetii or ‘Deer-people’ are the three henges at Eamont: the great Mayburgh or ‘Maiden’s Fort’ Henge, King Arthur’s Round Table and the Little Round Table. Eamont is from Anglo-Saxon ea-gemot or ‘water-meet’, signifying the river confluence at this location. Eamont replaced the earlier Cumbrian place-name Echwydd or ‘Out-water’ which is mentioned in the Taliesin poems as a site the Rheged kings ruled over. Echwydd itself is a reference to the Eamont River, which flows out of the large, natural lake of Ullswater, the second largest body of water in the Lake District.
Because a large concentration of dedications to the British god Belatucadros were found at the Roman fort of Brovacum, modern Brougham, next to Eamont, it has been assumed that the three henges belonged anciently to him. Next to one of the Belatucadros dedications was found a carving of a horned god. As the ‘Deer-people’ would certainly have worshipped a deer god, this carving is usually considered to be a depiction of Belatucadros himself. Belatucadros inscriptions are found at other sites in northwest England, chiefly along the western half of Hadrian’s Wall, including at the Avalon fort of Burgh-By-Sands.
During the rut of September and October, red stags engage in regular combats in competition for harems of hinds. The combats are composed of a period during which the two contestants walk in parallel with each other, roar and finally strike at each other, locking antlers and pushing until one animal is pushed backwards or gives way and retreats. Serious injury and even death can result.
The ancient Britons, observing such combats, could not have helped but to have compared them to the fighting of human warriors, who locked weapons and similarly strove to injure or kill their opponents or force them into retreat. The red stag thus became not only a manifestation of the deity, but the totem animal of the Carvetii tribe.
The corpus of Belatucadros inscriptions are found in the following places (information obtained via the Roman Inscriptions of Britain courtesy Kevan White and Guy de la Bedoyere). The reader will note that the majority of these inscriptions cluster about Brougham, site of the Roman fort of Brocavum. This fort was very near the cultic center of the Carvetii, the triple henges at Eamont. I will be discussing the fort and henges in more detail below.
Bowness-on-Solway: altar to Belatocairo by Peisius, m(iles). RIB 2056
Brougham: altar to B[a]latu(cadrus). RIB 772
Brougham: altar to Balatucairus by Baculo. RIB 773
Brougham: altar to Blatucairus by Audagus. RIB 774
Brougham: altar to Belatu[ca]drus by Julianus. RIB 775
Brougham: altar to Belatucadrus. RIB 776
Brougham: statue to Belatucadrus. RIB 77
Brougham: altar to Belatucabrous. JRS lix (1969), 237, no. 7
Burgh-by-Sands: altar to Belatucadrus. RIB 2038
Burgh-by-Sands: altar to Belatocadrus by Antr(onius) Auf(idianus?). RIB 2039
Burgh-by-Sands: altar to Belatucadrus. RIB 2044
Carlisle: altar to Belatucadrus. RIB 948
Carrawburgh: altar to Belleticaurus by Lunaris. RIB 1521
Carvoran: altar to Baliticaurus. RIB 1775
Carvoran: altar to Blatucadrus. RIB 1776
Castlesteads: altar to Belatugagrus by Minervalis. RIB 1976
Castlesteads: altar to Be[l]atuca[dr]us by Ullinus. RIB 1977 (and Brit. v (1974), 463, no. 10)
Kirkby Thore: altar to Belatucadrus by [...]iolus. RIB 759
Maryport: altar to Belatucadrus by Julius Civilis, optio. RIB 809
Old Carlisle: altar to Belatucadrus by Aurelius Tasulus, vet(eranus). RIB 887
Old Carlisle: altar to Belatucadrus by Aurelius Diatova. RIB 888
Old Carlisle: altar to Belatucaurus. RIB 889
Old Penrith: altar to Bel[a]tuca[drus]. RIB 914
Old Penrith: altar to Balatocadrus. Brit. ix (1977), 474, no. 7
Old Penrith: altar to Belatucairus. Brit. ix (1977), 474, no. 8
The actual inscriptions themselves I will list here, should anyone be interested in the readings of the stones:
US M SOLU
M L M
RO BACULO PR
O SE ET SUIS V
V S P S S
AM V S L M
S L M
SANCTO DEO BELATU
BURGH-BY-SANDS (Aballava/Avalana/Avalon Roman fort)
AUF POSUIT AR
AM PRO SE ET S
ET SUORUM POS
CARLISLE (hard by the Stanwix fort, power center of Arthur)
DEO MARTI BELATUCADRO
CASTLESTEADS (Camboglanna/Camlann Roman fort)
DEO S BE
RO AV DON
IULLINUS V S
RO LIB VOTU
V S L M
VET V S L M
DIATUS ARA E
X VOTO POSUIT
L L M M
RO ET NUMI
ACTOR IUL LU
[NOTE: One inscription is missing from this list: the Brougham altar to Belatucabrous, JRS lix (1969), 237, no. 7. I could not find this listed in any of the RIB-related materials made available to me.]
The name Belatucadros itself has been rendered incorrectly in several recent texts on Celtic gods. One of the most common etymologies offered would have the name mean ‘Fair Shining One’, the components Belatu- and cadros both being derived from words that mean bright, shining and the like. This is scarcely creditable.
A more likely derivation would connect Belatu- with early Welsh bel-. According to Dr. Graham Isaac of The National University of Ireland, Galway, bel-
“… is not ‘death’ in a passive sense (the death which happens), but ‘death’ in an active sense (the death which someone brings, i.e. killing). The verb means ‘smites, strikes, kills’ and reflects the Proto-Indo-European root *gwelh1 –‘stab, smite; throw’, which also turns up in Old Irish at-baill ‘dies’, from an earlier meaning ‘he throws it’ referring to the casting off of life, or ‘he struck it’. From Proto-Indo-European *gwelh1- we get the nominal formation *gwelh1-tu > Gaul. Belatu-,‘smiting, killing’.”
On –cadros, Dr. Isaac is also equally clear:
“… cadro- is the cognate of Old Breton cadr, Middle Breton kazr, Modern Breton kaer, “fair, beautiful”, and is derived from *cadro- < Proto-Indo-European k^d-ro- < *k^ed-, *k^d- ‘to shine, to excel’ (Pokorny 516-7). The Welsh word cadr ‘mighty, fair’ with which it is sometimes compared is properly distinct, and reflects *kat-ro-, with the same root as cad, ‘battle’, etc. There may have been some mixing of meanings between *kadro- and *katro- in Welsh, but that there were two originally distinct words should be beyond question (see Jackson LHEB 430-1)… In Old Welsh, the name Belatucadros would have been *Belatcair, and in Middle Welsh *Belatcaer or Belatkaer.”
I had also found a reference in Georges Dottin’s “La langue gauloise’, Paris, 1920, to cadros defined as ‘god, vakker’, “good, beautiful/handsome”. When I asked Dr. Isaac about this, he replied:
“The meaning ‘good’ is quite within the possible range of *kadro-.”
All this being so, the full meaning of Belatucadros is ‘striker/smiter/killer - [who is] fair/beautiful/handsome/shining/good.
We cannot, of course, know the exact sense of the name that was utilized by the actual worshippers of the god. However, if this god really had a stag form, ‘striker’ works best for –cadros. This is because a stag’s weapon is his antlers, which he uses to strike other stags during the rut, or which the animal can use defensively against predators. When rutting stags come together, it was seen as a metaphor for battle between two warriors. The resounding crash of opposing antlers coming into violent contact with each other may have been likened to the heavenly thunder that issued from the lightning strike.
Despite the Roman identification of Belatucadros with Mars, it is probable Belatucadros – if indeed a stag deity – can be compared with other horned Celtic gods generally designated Cernunnos. On the famous Gundestrup cauldron, Cernunnos holds the horned/crescent lunar snake in one hand and the (golden?) sun torc in the other. We may interpret his antlers as an iconographic representation of the heavenly lightning (less likely as the branches of the oak sky-tree, as has sometimes been suggested). Belatucadros did serve a martial function, and this is why he was referred to as Mars. In reality, he was probably a sky-deity and it is in this capacity that we will further explore his nature when we treat of the white stag of Arthur.
Belatucadros’s cult center took the form of three sacred henges near Eamont. The Roman fort of Brocavum nearby, where the heaviest concentration of dedications to the god were found, assures us that this is the main religious center of the Carvetii stag deity. Brocavum itself has been linked to the ancient Celtic *brokko-, ‘badger’. But this meaning has been called into question (see Rivet and Smith for the discussion of this fort name). An alternative etymology is ‘place of the heather’. Heather was extremely important as a food for the red deer, the largest of the deer found in Cumbria. From the ‘Trees for Life’ Website (http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/tfl.reddeer.html):
“The diet of red deer in Scotland today is comprised of grasses (mainly Agrostis spp. but also including some Festuca spp.) and dwarf shrubs, such as heather (Calluna vulgaris) and blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), with heather being particularly important during times of winter snow. Red deer will also browse on trees, especially young ones, and their preferred native tree species are willows (Salix spp.), aspen (Populus tremula) and rowan (Sorbus aucuparia).
Throughout the year the deer will forage in different areas. In summer they move upslope to high ground, to avoid midges (Culicoides impunctatus) and other biting flies, and in winter they frequent lower lying areas, where more food is available, and also to gain shelter from the cold. Feeding grounds also vary between the sexes, with the hinds concentrating on the better, relatively grass-rich habitats, while the stags usually graze on the poorer, heather-dominated areas.”
Thus a fort called ‘place of the heather’ would be an acknowledgment on the part of the Romans of this importance of the area for the Carvetii deer/stag cult. It was literally the place where the deer fed.
The henges of Mayburgh, King Arthur’s Round Table and the Little Round Table are nicely described at the following English Heritage Pastscape Web pages:
Other excellent discussions of the henges can be found in Tom Clare’s “Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District” (Tempus 2007) and in Aubrey Burl’s “A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany” (Yale University Press 1995).
Tom Clare brings up a couple of interesting “coincidences”. First, the external diameter of King Arthur’s Round Table or ‘KART’ almost exactly equals the internal diameter of the Mayburgh Henge. And second, the Little Round table is about the same size as the external diameter of KART. This suggests a definite relationship between the three henges.
To these accounts I would like to add only a few hypothetical observations. First, the Mayburgh Henge, which is thought to have contained a stone circle, and had at the very least a ‘four poster’ at its center, and either two or four stones flanking the inside or outside or both inside and outside of the entrance, opens ONLY to the east. This was the direction of the Spring and Fall Equinox sunrises
KART is almost directly east of Mayburgh. If you draw a line straight east from the entrance of Mayburgh, the line passes just over the northern edge of the King Arthur’s Round Table. The latter had two entrances, one to the NNW and the other to the SSE. If you draw an imaginary line straight south from the eastern side of KART, such a line runs to just about the northernmost point of the Little Round Table (this last is an approximation, as practically nothing remains of the Little Round Table, it having been for the most part destroyed in the late 1880s; see british-history.ac.uk, under their page for the parish of St. Michael, Barton). We know only that the Little Round Table appears to have had at least one entrance, in the northeast sector.
Stonehenge’s Avenue is on the northeast, where the midsummer sunrise occurs. Was there perhaps a southwestern entrance on the Little Round Table, one that marked the midwinter sunset?
But what of the NNW and SSE entrances of KART? These could have marked the midsummer sunset and midwinter sunrise, respectively. Major standstills of the moon could also have been marked by entrances facing in these directions.
We are then “missing” the Spring and Fall Equinox sunsets. Well, if I’m right and KART marked midsummer sunset and midwinter sunrise, while the Little Round Table marked the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, it stands to reason that Mayburgh Henge, which marks the Spring and Fall Equinox risings must also have somehow marked the settings of the same solar events. As Mayburgh appears to have had a full stone circle, and this was incorporated into its interior, I would offer as a possibility that a stone, perhaps taller than the others, stood aligned on the relevant settings of the sun in the west. It may also be that the builders of Mayburgh intended to “trap” the risings of the equinoctial sun, but did not wish to allow “in” the settings. This is merely speculation on my part, of course.
An alternative for the setting Equinoctial suns involves what may once have been an avenue or alignment of standing stones to the west of Mayburgh. At http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/skirsgill.htm, Chris Collyer says:
“It's difficult to tell from the photograph to the left but this is a rather impressive block of granite that stands about 1.8 metres tall with pronounced vertical fluting down its front face…There is some speculation that the stone once stood as part of an avenue of similar stones that are now lost or broken up for building material. This avenue could have extended from Sewborrans in the northwest down to the banks of the River Eamont just a few hundred metres to the south or even on toward the remaining henges of Mayburgh and King Arthur's Round Table about half a mile away to the southeast on the other side of the river at Eamont Bridge.”
Under his page for the Sewborrans Stone, he adds:
“The 1.5 metre high granite standing stone of Sewborrans (or Sewborwens) now stands lonely in a cattle field just north of the B5288 from Penrith to Greystoke; it may, however, once have formed part of an alignment or avenue of stones as two 19th century sources claim. A William Furness writing in 1894 speculates that there was a northwest - southeast avenue that ran "from Newton (Reigny) to the ford of the Eamont at Yanwath." I don't know exactly where this ford across the river was but it is possible that it was close to the two remaining henges of Mayburgh and King Arthur's Round Table at Eamont Bridge. If this is the case then the avenue could also have included the large stone that stands in a small industrial park at Skirsgill. Another writer (Taylor) stated earlier in 1886 that there was indeed an avenue of stones but that it formed a northeast - southwest alignment running from Sewborrans towards Newbiggin. Sadly the loss of other stones that may have formed either alignment means that we cannot be sure if there were one, two or indeed more stone avenues here or how they were related to the two long cairns that stand a short distance to the northwest of Sewborrans.”
The Pastscape entry for the Skirsgill stone shows familiarity with the tradition that some kind of avenue or alignment focusing on Mayburgh may once have existed:
[NY 50972875] Standing Stone [G.T.].
A large boulder stone just north of Skirsgill, supposed to have had some connection with Mayburgh [NY 52 NW 12].
The stone is comparable with that surviving at Mayburgh, otherwise no further information. See G.P. AO/65/55/8.
NY 50982874 Standing stone 180m NNE of Skirsgill. A roughly rectangular granite stone measuring c1.8m high by 1.3m wide; scheduled.
Granted, as the Skirsgill Stone lies to the NW of Mayburgh, any alignment of this particular stone with the henge must have pointed to something other than the equinoctial setting of suns. However, there may once have been other similar stones that served the function of the marking the equinoxes.
In Chapter 4 I discussed Myrddin as a Carvetii god who leads an army of stag-warriors and slays his wife’s new husband with a stag’s horn. In this capacity as a sacred king, he may have been acting not in the role of the horned god Belatucadros, but in that of Lleu, who was also worshipped by the Carvetii. As we’ve seen, Lleu takes stag form in a Mabinogion story.
Arthur may have beeb of the Carvetii as well and it should not surprise us, then, to find Arthur associated with the famous white stag in later romance. Mary Jones (maryjones.us/jce/whitestag.html) has a useful page discussing the significance of the white stag in a Celtic and Arthurian context. Here I will only say that real-life white stags have been recorded. See, for example
As Belatucadros was the ‘Shining Striker’, we might visualize him as a brilliant white stag deity. Although there is some evidence that the white stag should be seen as a symbol for the sun, in truth the sun is not white. The moon is, as are clouds racing across the sky. But whatever celestial object the white stag symbolized, in the context of Arthurian story he may well be a manifestation of the chief god of the Carvetii. As such, his appearance would indeed be miraculous, and following him would doubtless take an intrepid knight on a harrowing journey to the Otherworld, i.e. the Underworld where all heavenly bodies set.
We will see in Chapter 6 below that Gwyn, the Welsh god of the Otherworld whose name means ‘white, fair, blessed’, appears to have been the Horned God in another guise.
A CATALOG OF DEITIES
To know who Achren is, we must start at the Fort of Nefyn the Tall, Nefyn being the Welsh way of spelling the Irish Nemhain. In our time the fort is called Carn Bod-Buan or Boduan, which stands over the town of Nefyn on the Lleyn Peninsula in Gwynedd, Wales.
Long ago, at the foot of this fort, there occurred a famous battle among the tribe of the Gangani, the men of ‘The Branch’, as they called the headland at the end of the Lleyn Peninsula. It was because of this battle that the Welsh poets centuries later told of a battle fought between the trees of the forest. For the poets thought that the battle of the Men of the Branch was a battle of the branches of trees, and this they called the Battle of Godeu.
Godeu (or Goddeu) is not the word for wood, which in Welsh is coed (in Latin sources, coit). It is instead a short form of Gododdin, that kingdom in the North of Britain that lay along the Firth of Forth in Scotland. In the early medieval period, it was thought that men of Manau Gododdin, or that part of Gododdin at the head of the Firth of Forth, had come down to Gwynedd to rule. The ruler of these men was called Cunedda. But in truth Cunedda did not come from Manau Gododdin. He actually came from Drumanagh in Ireland, directly across from the Lleyn Peninsula. He was known to the Irish as Chuinnedha or Cuindedha.
Achren has been thought of as a goddess. She is mentioned as fighting in the Battle of Godeu. But the manuscript that speaks of her is very late – in fact, from the 17th century! We are told in this late source that the god Bran was also in the battle, and that if anyone could guess either her name or his, then the side that person was on would win the battle. Bran had with him sprigs of alder (or alder depicted on his shield), and it was because of this that Gwydion was able to guess his name. For was not Bran’s son named Gwern, which in Welsh is ‘Alder’?
But Achren herself was not a goddess – she was a divine bird from Annwn, the Otherworld. In the Welsh Triads we are told that the cause of the Battle of Godeu was the theft of a plover, white roebuck and a whelp from Arawn, Lord of Annwn, by Amaethon son of Don. When the tale is told in the 17th century, only the white roebuck and whelp are said to be the cause of the battle. The plover is oddly missing.
So what happened to the plover? This bird in the early Welsh tongue was ‘chornugil’, and in the text of the Triads chornugil is preceded by ‘a’. Achren is nothing more than a corruption for ‘a chornugil’. In other words, Achren is the plover of Annwn.
This is why she is paired with Bran, whose name means ‘Raven’. They were both sacred birds of the Gangani or ‘Branch’ people. The plover migrates very long distances, and often does so without stopping along the way. Its flight is rapid, and it also is quick to give alarm calls, and so is the sentinel for other shorebirds. One should invoke the spirit and essence of the plover when long trips are planned or when it is necessary to be unusually vigilant.
There is no connection between the name Achren and the Arthurian fort name Caer Ochren, as has sometimes been proposed.
This god’s name means ‘He who Drives Around the Plough’. He is the Welsh god of agriculture, corresponding to the Roman Saturn. The farmer ploughing in his field is an embodiment of Amaethon, and the farmer should call upon this god to aid him in preparing the field for planting. So, too, should the gardener, who uses only the hoe to prepare the earth for seed.
She was the goddess of the river Annan in Dumfriesshire of the Scottish Lowlands. Geoffrey of Monmouth made her into ‘Anna’, daughter of Uther and Eigr. In the Irish sources, Anu is identified with the Morrigan, and is also made the sister of Badb and Macha. We have seen above in Chapter 2 that while the Welsh name Morgan (as in Morgan le Fey) meant ‘Sea-born’, she was a substitute for the Irish Morrigan or ‘Spirit-queen’. Thus Anna or Anu, sister of Arthur, who was identified by the Irish with the Morrigan, became Morgan le Fey, sister of Arthur. Anu’s name means ‘riches’ and she should be called upon whenever emotional or physical prosperity is sought. Anna in the early Welsh genealogies is the wife of Beli Mawr (q.v.), and the father of Afallach, the Welsh form of Irish Ablach, the apple Otherworld also known as Avalon. We have seen that Avalon is the Burgh-By-Sands Roman fort of that name, which was right across the Solway from the Anann River.
Arianrhod or Aranrhod is the ‘Silver Wheel’, an apt description for the full moon, envisioned as a wheel rolling through the heavens. It is from Arianrhod that Lleu the sun god receives his name and weapons. Thus she should be called upon for the naming of children and for the wisdom to choose those tools or skills which will most assist children during the course of their lives. A Welsh word for moon is ‘lleuad’, because Lleu’s name meant ‘Light’ and it was the sun’s light reflecting from the moon that made the goddess arian or ‘silver’.
That Arianrhod is actually tricked by Gwydion into bestowing a name and weapons upon Lleu I take to be late patriarchal interference in what was originally a matriarchal Celtic custom.
Arawn is the Welsh form of Orion the Hunter, a borrowing from Classical mythology. Some have thought to see the Biblical Aaron in this god name, but Arawn’s relationship to Hafgan (q.v.), as well as his being a hunter in Welsh tradition, confirms the identification with Orion. Annwn is the pagan Otherworld, specifically the underworld, which prior to Christianity did not have negative connotations. The word itself either means ‘very deep place’ or the ‘not-world’. It became identified with the Christian Hell.
The real king of Annwn is Gwyn son of Nudd (q.v.). In the Life of St. Collen, the entrance to Annwn is at Glastonbury Tor, and the king of Annwn is expressly stated to be Gwyn. The great hunter in Welsh tradition was Mabon, as is made clear in the Mabinogion. There we are told that no one can hunt the monstrous boar Twrch Trwyth without Mabon, who is the only one who can handle the hound Drudwyn. Mabon was Apollo Maponus, and at Nettleton Scrub Apollo Cunomaglos was the ‘Hound-prince’.
Because Orion was the constellation of Winter, call upon him during the cold season for help when pursuing worthy objectives or when honouring ancestors.
‘She who is next to/by/in front of/across from the Sacred Grove’ was the goddess worshipped at Aquae Arnemetia, the Baths of Arnemetia, modern-day Buxton in the Peak District of Derbyshire. In my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, I supplied my argument for this place being the site of Arthur’s Mount Badon battle.
Her name presents us with a bit of a problem, for it suggests the goddess did not reside in the nemeton or sacred grove itself, but rather somewhere not too far outside of it. The waters at Buxton were considered sacred to her precisely because of their proximity to the nemeton. Doubtless the grove, wherever its precise location, was part of what came to be known under the Normans as the ‘Royal Forest of the Peak’, a region bordered by the rivers Goyt, Etherow, Derwent and Wye. The ‘Frith’ of Chapel-en-le-Frith, under a half down miles north of Buxton, is from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘woodland’, a reference to the Peak Forest.
The waters of Arnemetia were rededicated to the Christian St. Anne, mother of Mary. We have seen above that Anne was herself often a substitute for the goddess Anu.
The Roman Diana Nemorensis or Diana ‘of the Sacred Grove’, whose temple stood on Lake Nemi, can be compared with Arnemetia. In this Classical context, a lake and grove are found in close conjunction with each other. The same relationship may have existed between the natural springs of Arnemetia and her nemeton. Various types of water-loving trees grow in abundance on the banks of lakes, rivers and springs. Such trees help protect the spring from drying up during the hot part of the year. There is thus a symbiotic relationship of sorts between a spring and its nemeton. Experts in early British religion have not neglected to notice that a goddess Nemetona, literally ‘Divine One of the Sacred Grove’, received a dedication at Bath, the Romano-British Aquae Sulis.
Arnemetia, then, is the goddess who presides over springs that are sheltered by trees. She is the guardian deity of such places as well as being manifest in the healing qualities of the water. She should be called upon when water cures are administered and when refuge from negative forces is sought. Any nemeton dedicated to her can be viewed as an inviolable sanctuary.
Beli Mawr or Beli ‘the Great’ is Apollo Belenos, Apollo the Bright or Shining One. The earliest Welsh genealogies make his father one Afallach, who as we have seen can be equated with the Irish Ablach of Emain Ablach, the Apple Orchard Otherworld. His mother was ‘Anna’, i.e. the goddess Anu.
In Arthurian romance Beli Mawr is called Pellinore. In the 12th century, Johannes Cornubiensis identified Caer Beli or the Fort of Beli with Ashbury Camp near Week St. Mary in Cornwall. This fort he also termed the ‘Fatale Castrum’ or Deadly Castle. However, this is an error, as Ashbury Camp is an unremarkable hill-fort. Instead, Ashbury, Oxfordshire is the actual site of the original Cair Beli. This is where we find the famous Neolithic chambered tomb now known as Wayland’s Smithy. Wayland was the smith-god of the invading Saxons. The Smithy is near the Uffington White Horse and one of the primary symbols of Belenos in Gaul is the horse.
Beli as Apollo is associated with Stonehenge, as Geoffrey of Monmouth has the Britons slain by the Saxons at this great ritual centre on May 1st or Beltane, the day of ‘Beli’s Fire’. Stonehenge, of course, is just a little south of the Wayland’s Smithy chambered tomb and the Uffington White Horse.
As Stonehenge was a great astronomical observatory concerned primarily with the motion of the sun through the year, a motion which defines our measurement of time, Beli should be invoked for any matter that is time sensitive or requires calculations and computations. He is the horse that unfailingly gallops across the sky 365 days a year. As such, he is also useful for purposes of steadfastness and determination or single-mindedness of purpose. He is a prophet in the sense that like the future, the course of the sun is always predictable. Finally, he is the god of resurrection, as the sun is reborn every Winter Solstice. Archaeo-astronomers have confirmed that the Winter Solstice was observed annually at Stonehenge.
It was once claimed that Bedwyr was the ‘Birch-king’, but this etymology does not work. He was instead anciently Bodvorix or ‘Battle-king’. Because of his martial name, and the fact that he is said to have only one arm, we can identify Bedwyr as a byname of the Romano-British god Mars Nodens. Nodens, known to the Welsh as Nudd or Lludd, and to the Irish as Nuadha, lost his solar arm and had it replaced by a silver lunar arm fashioned by a divine smith. Because of the loss of his solar arm, he was not qualified for kingship over the gods and his place was taken by the sun god Lugh (= Welsh Lleu). The Norse Odin similarly loses his solar eye, and Tyr his solar hand. We will see below that the Arthurian hero Cai or Cei, the later Sir Kay of the romances, was made a constant companion of Bedwyr for a very good reason. Bedwyr is the god of war. He should not be invoked lightly, for he brings with him the horrific violence of manslaughter on a massive scale, with all of its dire consequences. Simply put, he is the soldier’s god.
‘Flower-aspect’, as she is known, brings about the death of her lover Lleu at Midwinter. The goat and bathtub of Lleu’s death scene represent, respectively, the goat of Capricorn and the water-bearer of Aquarius. Lleu’s annual death thus occurred originally at February 1 or Imbolc, if calculated around 1200 A.D., the approximate date for the Mabinogion tale in which he is featured. In 3000 BCE, the sun was between these two signs on the Winter Solstice.
Lleu’s solar twin, Goronwy Pebr, ‘the Radiant’, would himself be killed by his resurrected rival either on Lughnasadh or August 1 (assuming an Imbolc death for Lleu) or on the Summer Solstice (assuming a Winter Solstice death for Lleu). Blodeuwedd’s sacred bird was the barn owl, a nocturnal bird whose round, white face symbolized the moon. Thus she is the same goddess as Arianrhod, who gives the young Lleu his name and weapons.
Bran means ‘Raven’ in Welsh, and this is a nickname for the Welsh Lleu (q.v.). In Gaul Lugos (= Lleu and the Irish Lugh) was frequently depicted with ravens, and it is thought possible by some that a Proto-Indo-European word meaning ‘blackness, dimness, darkness’ produced an otherwise unattested word in Gaul for raven that resembled Lugos’ name.
The blessed head of Bran, a symbol for Lleu himself, is a solar symbol. It is also the grain of the wheat, cut off at harvest. Harvest coincided with Lughnasadh, the festival of Lugh on August 1. The burying of the head of Bran signifies that the planting season has begun on Beltane, May 1.
On the negative side, the raven is a scavenger bird that frequents battle fields in search of corpses to feed upon. The appearance of the raven can, therefore, presage conflict. Yet, ironically, as the sacred warrior can embody Bran as a raven or war-god, his consumption as a battlefield corpse by Bran the raven is akin to Christ’s consuming of the bread and wine at the Last Supper – the same bread and wine which symbolized Christ’s own body and blood. The Irish war goddesses took the form of crows and, indeed, the goddess name Badb means ‘Crow’. Like the Norse Valkyries who carried slain warriors to Valholl, the crow or raven can be viewed as a divine bird that eats and then carries the dead to the Otherworld in its gizzard. The body of a human being is not unlike a seed; it must be planted in the earth before it can be reborn.
We will discuss Bran’s magical cauldron in Chapter 13.
This was the great goddess of the Brigantes tribe whose name means ‘the High One’ (in the sense of being ‘Exalted’). We know from Romano-British inscriptions that she had a male consort named Bregans, who seems to have been of minor importance. The territory of the Brigantes covered a wide area of northern England. The Carvetii or People of the Deer were a northeastern confederate tribe of the Brigantes. We have seen that Arthur’s power centre lay at Stanwix next to Carlisle, the latter being the capital of the Carvetii in the earlier Roman period.
In Gaul the Romans equated Brigantia with Minerva. In Britain her name is preserved in river and hill place-names. For example, in southwest England Brigantia’s name is present at Brent Knoll, a hill-fort in Somerset where Edern (or Yder), one of Arthur’s knights, is said to battle three giants. These three giants are obviously a triune British deity and can only be Bregans, consort of Brigantia.
And this goddess continues to be worshipped to this day by Christians in the form of St. Bridget or Bride, although in some cases this last represents a later import of the Irish St. Brighid, herself originally Brigantia. Kirkbride or the ‘Church of Brigid’ is only a couple of dozen miles southwest of the Avalon that is Burgh-By-Sands. Bridekirk is further south in Cumbria and there are other St. Bride churches in the region, e.g. at Moresby, Brigham, Beckermet and Ponsonby.
Some of these Bride churches evince early dedications to this goddess-turned-saint. Brigantia was worshipped at the Corbridge Roman fort, the Camelot of Arthur. There an altar was set up to her as Caelestis Brigantia or ‘Heavenly Brigantia’.
Brigantia’s or Bridget’s cult is well-developed and complex. Her feast day on February 1 corresponds with the pagan festival of Imbolc (‘In the Belly’, a designation for pregnant ewes) or Oimelc (‘Ewe’s Milk’, for lactating ewes), which celebrated the birth of the new lambs and their suckling nourishment from their mothers. St. Brigid’s Cross, woven of rushes, was originally a solar symbol and stood for the goddess herself. The same was true of her doll, which was constructed of sheaves of wheat and placed in a bed. This doll stood for the goddess as the seed that was planted in the soil and then sprouted and grew, just as the sun set in the earth in the evening only to rise from it in the morning. A club was burned with the bed and its outline sought in the ashes as this was considered a sign of a successful harvest in the coming year. This club was phallic, the lightning of the god, the strike of which burned the field and thus fertilized it. It was also symbolic of the plough, with the outline it left in the ashes representing the furrow in which the seed would be planted. Not surprisingly, this pre-eminent mother goddess was also a triple goddess who provided feasts of plenty and presided over holy wells, a perpetual fire (symbolic of the sun), prophecy, healing, crafts and poetry.
The depiction of Brigantia on a carved stone at Birrens, Dumfriesshire, shows her as Minerva, replete with spear and shield. Minerva was the Roman version of the Greek Athena, a fierce warrior goddess whose rampages in the Iliad of Homer are well known. This means that the ancient goddess Brigantia was quite different from the Christian saint she became, who is decidedly pacifistic in nature. In a very real sense, then, Brigantia or Bridget was the most ‘full-spectrum’ of all the goddesses in the Celtic pantheon. Those who accept her as their patron deity can invoke her for almost anything imaginable.
He is the constant companion of Bedwyr. The name Cai is not from Latin Caius or Gaius. His father’s name is Cynyr, the ancient Cunorix or ‘Hound-king’. At the Lydney Park shrine of Mars Nodens, whose Bodvorix epithet yields Bedwyr, the most common ritual deposits were images of dogs. Some of these images have specifically been described as representing an animal akin to the Irish wolfhound. The dog can be faithful and loving, as well as protective, but it can also hunt and kill animals, or fiercely attack and savage humans. Like its cousin the wolf, it can feed upon carrion. In Classical religion, the three-headed dog Cerberus guarded the entrance to Hades and wolves in Norse myth were the steeds of Valkyries. The monstrous lunar animal Fenrir swallowed Tyr’s solar hand during an eclipse. The dog was also associated with healing shrines because it was believed to be able to heal its own wounds with saliva. Certainly the dog of Bedwyr or Mars Nodens was primarily a dog of war. As such, it should be seen as merely the animal form of Bedwyr himself.
The other possible derivation of Cai’s name is Celtic *cagio, ‘hedge, fence’. This survives in the Welsh word cae, ‘hedge, fence, enclosure, field’. The meaning of cae changed over time from ‘that which encloses’, i.e. a fence, to ‘that which is enclosed’. A wooden fence or palisade was commonly erected atop the earthen mound produced by digging a defensive ditch around a fort or temple. Cai would seem to be the personification of just such a fence, for he is several times associated with wood.
In Culhwch and Olwen, we learn that he could make himself as tall as a tree in the forest, that he could become fuel for the fire of his companions and that to avoid the murderous embrace he places a log of firewood between himself and the wife of Custennin the Herdsman. He tells the giant Wrnach that it is the latter’s scabbard which has damaged his sword: ‘Give it to me,’ Cai says, ‘and I will take out the wooden side pieces and make new ones.’ With Bedwyr, Cai makes wooden tweezers and uses these to pluck out Dillus’ beard. Culhwch and Olwen also records Cai’s slaying by one Gwyddog son of Menestyr, who is none other than the Irish Fidach of Munster, father of the Crimthainn Mor who is known to have taken land in southwest Britain in the Dark Ages. Fidach means ‘wooded, abounding in trees’ as an adjective, but ‘trees, timber’ as a noun. The closely related fedach means ‘boughs, branches’.
We have an inscription of a god Kagiris from Saint Beat, Haute-Garonne, France. The name is derived from Celtic *kagjo-, ‘fence’, and rix, ‘king’. Kagiris was thus the god who personified or presided over the fence which protected either a settlement or a temenos (temple) or nemeton (sacred grove).
But if Cai is a British version of Gaulish Kagiris, why is he always paired with Bedwyr/Nodens?
The answer to this question lies in the nature of the Nodens temple at Lydney Park. The temple here lies within an Iron Age promontory fort. Late in the Roman period, the original single rampart – which would have been surmounted by a wooden palisade – was heightened and two others were built in front of it. After 364 CE buildings were erected inside the fort and enclosed within a stone wall.
Cai was the personification of the fences on the triple ramparts that protected the temple of Nodens, and he may also have been present in the later stone wall. As already mentioned, the hound was sacred to Nodens. It was doubtless for this reason that Cai’s father was named Cynyr/Cunorix the Hound-king. In other words, Cai was the embodiment of the fence that protected the temple of his father Nodens.
Of course, a warrior could be a ‘bulwark in battle’ in poetic language, just as a line of warriors could be viewed as a ‘battle-fence’. Such a ‘battle-fence’ might well surround a lord or king in a protective sense.
Her name means the ‘Bent or Crooked Woman’ and she is the quintessential hag or crone, associated in this case with Llyn Tegid or Bala Lake in north-western Wales. The true nature of her magical cauldron will be revealed when we take a closer look at her son, Morfran Afagddu (q.v.).
She is the Welsh form of the goddess Venus, her name being from two Celtic words that mean literally ‘Heart-lust’. We will meet her again in Chapter 15, in our discussion of the everlasting seasonal battle. The combatants in this battle are Gwynn son of Nudd and Gwythyr, the Romano-British god Vitiris (q.v.). They fight, of course, over the right to possess Creiddylad and share her equally, half a year each.
Creirwy (or Creirfyw)
Crierwy, one of the three fair maidens/ladies or fair queens (gwenriein) of Welsh Triad 78, is the daughter of CERIDWEN. Her name derives from creir, a common Welsh variant spelling for crair, ‘relic, holy thing, talisman, treasure, richly decorated article, object of admiration or love, darling, safe-guard, strength, hand-bell, church-bell’. -wy is merely a feminine suffix, as in Gwenonwy, while the alternate terminal –fyw (byw) means ‘lively’. This etymological analysis does not, however, shed much light on Creirwy’s character. We will see below that Ceridwen’s son MORFRAN, ‘Sea-raven’, is a black cormorant deity of Bala Lake/Llyn Tegid. The Welsh word for ‘lake-monster’ was afanc, actually the word for beaver, being derived from the word for river, afon, and meaning literally ‘water-dweller’. The Irish cognate word is abhac, meaning ‘dwarf, supernatural being’, but this last is also used for a beaver and even a small terrier. Beavers reside in streams, not large lakes, but otters (otter as a word is etymologically related to ‘water’) do live in lakes and are, in fact, found in Bala Lake. One of Ceridwen’s assumed forms when pursuing Taliesin is that of an otter. All of which brings us back, albeit rather circuitously, to Creirwy. It would seem reasonable to assume that this sister of Morfran the divine cormorant and daughter of Ceridwen the divine otter ought to be another submarine denizen of the same lake. Fortunately, a saint’s life comes to our rescue: there is a 6th century Breton saint heralding from Wales of the same name (Chreirbia), and she is intimately associated with the goose. It is likely that the Llyn Tegid Creirwy is the same personage, and she should be paired as a divine lake bird with her brother Morfran. Perhaps significantly, there is a Welsh folk belief in Caerarvonshire of geese on a lake at night being transformed witches. This was especially true on the first Thursday night of the lunar month. In Welsh Thursday is Ddydd Iou or the ‘Day of Jove’, i.e. Jupiter, the Classical counterpart of the Norse Thor of Thursday. It is noteworthy, perhaps, the Jupiter’s consort Juno is known for her sacred geese.
The ‘Lean Pig’ is a boar god like Mercury Moccus of Gaul. As such, he would doubtless have presided over an everlasting feast in which a boar was cooked and consumed, only to come back to life to be butchered and served again to his Otherworld guests. He would also have been invoked by boar hunters for success in the hunt and avoidance of injury by an animal that can prove to be incredibly dangerous. Ancient hunters prayed to the spirit of the animal they slew for forgiveness and thanks and often performed some ritual of atonement over it that was designed to ensure the eventual rebirth of the animal. This ritual ensured that there would always be more animals to hunt, and assuaged the guilt of the hunters. Hunting was critical to man’s survival prior to the domestication of livestock. Culhwch the boar teaches us to truly appreciate whatever bounty we are blessed with and to respect and honour the ultimate source of that bounty. All too often we take for granted that which sustains us – especially in this day and age, when going to the grocery store for farmed, pre-processed, pre-packaged food deprives us of the often ugly, time-consuming work entailed in hunting, killing, slaughtering and preserving of prey animals. So invoke the divine boar whenever sustenance, either physical or spiritual, is needed. This is not the same as calling upon Anu for prosperity. Culhwch instead concerns survival at its most basic level.
For Culhwch’s mother Goleuddydd, see below.
She was mother of all the Welsh gods, who has often wrongly been identified with the Irish Danu, ‘She who flows’, a personification of the divine river or of the sources of all fresh-water. Don’s name instead is to be seen as similar to Irish don, ‘earth’. Thus the children of Don in Welsh tradition were the gods born of the Earth Goddess, while the children of Llyr were those sired by the Sea God. Ask Don for her blessing in any endeavour which relates to the earth or those living things which dwell within, upon or spring forth from the earth.
‘He who moves toward the shore’ is the Welsh god of the tides. He is the son of Tonn or ‘wave’. The god of the sea proper was Llyr (q.v.). Being the god of the tides, he is intimately associated with the moon goddess and, indeed, is totally dependent upon her. Anyone who relies upon tidal fluctuations for their livelihood should invoke Dylan. He also symbolizes the ebb and flow of other natural forces, emotional states and substances. As sea water contains salt, so does our blood, and so the flow of our blood to and from our hearts is an action of Dylan. A woman’s menstrual flow is also a monthly or lunar event that involves the flowing of blood. He is a reminder that nothing ever remains the same in Nature, but is constantly changing, moving back and forth, in and out, in a constant state of flux. Call upon him, therefore, for positive change, for a reversal of an unwanted situation. If you cannot walk across the beach because it is submerged, ask Dylan to pull the water back for you. But beware of the tide as it later comes rushing back in!
This Mabinogion hero is the violator of the goddess Goewin, the mother of Lleu (q.v.) and Dylan. His name is not ‘servant of Maethwy’, a rendering totally rejected by philologists. Instead it is Gylf-Daethwy, the ‘Beak or Bill of Daethwy’, which over time became simplified to Gilfaethwy. Daethwy is preserved in the place-names Porth-(D) aethwy and Dindaethwy on Anglesey.
The ‘Bill’ or ‘Beak’ in question here belongs to an eagle, the bird of the god Lleu. This eagle may be likened to the one described in Triad 26 as one of the three offspring born in Arfon to the divine sow Henwen. These include a wolf-cub, a young eagle and a kitten. Lleu himself is found in eagle-form atop an oak at Nantle in Arfon, according to the tale Math son of Mathonwy. The eagle in Classical myth was a symbol of the thunder and sky father, Jupiter, bearer of the heavenly lightning. The oak was Jupiter’s tree.
Welsh gylf also came to mean ‘knife’. Before Bedivere, i.e. Bedwyr, took over the role in the French romances, it was Gilfaethwy in the guise of Girflet who tossed the dying King Arthur’s sword into the lake (see Chapter ? below). Weapons were found on Anglesey deposited in the bog of Llyn Cerrig Bach. As King Arthur’s sword Caledfwlch meant ‘hard-lightning’, it is not surprising that Gilfaethwy in eagle-form would be responsible for carrying it. We will see below that the god Lleu actually wielded Arthur’s sword in an early poem.
In Math son of Mathonwy, Gilfaethwy the eagle is transformed by Math into a hind, sow and wolf-bitch. These three animals, along with the eagle, represented the sun god in the four quarters of the sacred year.
This virgin foot-holder of Math son of Mathonwy and mother of Lleu and Dylan by Gilfaethwy bears a name that is usually said to be a variant of Welsh goiewin, ‘bold, daring’. However, if her name is viewed as a compound, i.e. Go-ewin, then it comes from the British *Woangwina, ‘the very clawed one’ or ‘the scratching one’. She can be compared with the Cath Palug or Clawing Cat of Triad 26, another of the three offspring of the sow Henwen. Because she is the maternal aspect of the triple goddess Goewin-Blodeuwedd-Arianrhod, she is a lunar cat.
The Welsh smith god; his name literally means ‘Smith’. He is identical with the Irish Goibhniu, who finds his way, albeit indirectly, into the Mabinogion as Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid. Gyfnew(id) is known for his magical cauldron, which ends up in the possession of the god Bran (see Chapter 13 below). The Mabinogion presents this cauldron as resurrecting slain warriors - although their ‘silence’ upon being resurrected is actually a hallmark of the dead. The Irish smith god held the Fled Goibnenn or ‘Feast of Goibhniu’ in the Otherworld, where the ale conferred immortality on the drinkers. The Irish Luchta and Credne were the other two aspects of Goibhniu, each being responsible for a particular kind of craftsmanship. Anyone who practices a trade, enjoys a craft or embarks on an artistic enterprise or career should adopt Gofannon as their patron deity. He will help guide them in their creative endeavours, inspiring them with ideas and sustaining them through their efforts.
This goddess, whose name means ‘Bright or Shining Day’, because she is married to Cilydd son of Cyleddon or Celyddon, i.e. the Caledonian Wood in Lowland Scotland, may be a cipher for Gwenddydd, ‘White Day’. She goes mad when pregnant and “avoided civilized places”. Sanity returns once she gives birth to the hero Culhwch (see above). When she dies a two-headed briar (or bramble or thornbush) grows from her grave.
Like Gwenddydd (see below), she may have been linked to the Roman moon goddess Diana Lucina, who was called upon by women giving birth. Specifically, Golueddydd seems related to difficult childbirth and, doubtless, to the birth of wild animals. The process of domestication of animals also seems under here purview, as she comes from the wilds to give birth to Culhwch the Lean Pig in a civilized setting. She may also be called upon when one wishes to avoid entanglements (symbolized by the briar/bramble/thornbush) that can lead to undesirable consequences.
A brief inspection of several hundred Green Man images in churches revealed to me one interesting fact I had not previously taken into account: in most cases, the greenery, often arranged in scroll-work patterns, issues from the MOUTHS of these figures. This is not, of course, an original observation. But I’m reminded of totally unrelated images, like wind coming from the mouth of a storm god, or blood-scrolls depicted along the cheeks of an ancient Maya Indian. One thinks also of the male ‘Gorgon’ figure at Bath. Could there be some significance to this?
Lastly, the HEAD ONLY is portrayed. No body is provided for the Green Man. I am wondering… In the past I have thought of the head of the god Bran as both symbolic of the sun, and of the corn seed (corn here in the British sense!). As the sun sets into the earth, so is the seed planted. The sprouting of the seed – from the split-mouth of the Green Man/Bran’s head? – represents the rising of the sun from out of the earth as well as the rebirth of plants. All fitting in with seasonal cycles, of course.
Could Bran or a comparable British figure BE the Green Man?
As the Green Knight in the Middle English Arthurian poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ seasonally loses his head and replaces it, thus passing from a stage of death to rebirth, it is perhaps significant that as Bertilak (= Bertholais in the VULGATE) he is a later version of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Britaelis. Britaelis, in turn, was Gorlois’s servant WHOSE FORM WAS ASSUMED BY MERLIN! The other resident of the Green Chapel in the poem is identified with Morgan le Fay, the British form of the Irish Morrigan.
This identification of the decapitated Green Knight with Merlin might point to the Green Man head motif as representing Merlin’s head.
In all likelihood, several gods with vegetative qualities contributed to the character we now refer as the Green Man.
This hero’s name was once thought to mean ‘Falcon of the Plain’; he became the Gawain of later Arthurian romance. His mother was Gwyar, literally ‘blood, gore; field of blood, battle, massacre’.
We now know, thanks to Culhwch and Olwen, where we are told he was ‘the best on foot’, that his name comes from the ancient Wolcomagesos, the ‘Wolf of the Plain’. Wolves walk, trot, lope or gallop. They have long legs and can walk at about four miles per hour. Their usual mode of travel is to trot, which they generally do at between eight to ten miles per hour. They can keep this kind of pace up for hours on end and have been known to cover sixty miles in a single night. Wolves are nocturnal animals and are associated with the moon. They represent the wild side of the dog (see Cai/Cynan above) and, therefore, lack that animal’s positive aspects in terms of its relationship with humans, i.e. fidelity, companionship, guardianship. Feared and hated, they were destructive of men’s livestock – unlike the domestic dog, whose instinct for hunting had been channelled into the duel tasks of driving and protecting the herd or flock. In Freudian theory, the devouring wolf is the deflowering wolf, and so his name contributed to Gwalchmai’s or Gawain’s lecherous character in the French romances. Although a pack animal, the wolf was also often perceived as a roving loner, and so was well-suited as a symbol for the wandering warrior, i.e. a knight errant.
Gwalchmai’s mother, Gwyar or ‘Blood’, was a fairly typical Celtic battle goddess. She was identified with Anna, the sister of Arthur, who as we have seen above was none other than the goddess Anu. One wonders if Gwalchmai should be brought into connection with the wolf-cub born from the sow Henwen. We have seen above that Gilfaethwy the eagle and Goewin the cat are similar to two of Henwen’s offspring.
Gwair or ‘Gweir’, as he is called in the early Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwn, is an extremely important personage. The first pagan Grail is described in his story, a bowl that is associated with Rhiannon (q.v.) the ‘Divine Queen’ or Epona the horse goddess because it represents her patera full of grain. But is Gwair a hero or a god? Welsh gweir, i.e. gwair, is ‘hay’ or ‘grass’. Because he is called Gwri Gwallt Eurin or Gwri ‘Golden-hair’ (as well as Gwarae Gwalt Eurin) in the Mabinogion, some have chosen to interpret his first name as a reference to ripening grass, which turns golden in the Fall. Instead, his name is a loan word from Old Irish, guaire, ‘hair of an animal, bristles’. This same Irish word can mean ‘folt fionn’ or ‘fair/yellow hair’. In other words, this son of the horse goddess was covered with golden horse hair! The story of his birth, combined with his being placed during the time of the British king Cassivellaunus, allows us to determine his true identity:
“As night fell, the mare gave birth to a large, handsome colt… Teyrnon (q.v.)… heard a great commotion, and after the commotion, a great claw came through the window, and grasped the colt by the mane. Teyrnon drew his sword and cut off the arm from the elbow, so that part of the arm and the colt remained inside with him.”
(Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed)
The colt and the arm here are a fanciful rendering of Mandubracius, a chieftain who lived at the time of Cassivellaunus. Mandu- is ‘pony or little horse’, and while – bracius does not mean ‘arm’, the Welsh may well have interpreted it as being Welsh braich, ‘arm’, to which we may compare Old Irish brac, Latin brachium. The Pryderi (‘Anxiety, Distress’) name later given to Gwri is a fanciful addition on the part of the story-teller, as is Pwyll (‘Prudence, Wisdom’), the name of his father. Teyrnon the
‘Divine Lord’ and Rhiannon the ‘Divine Queen’ are plainly the original parents of Gwri. The mistake crept in when The Spoils of Annwn poem was misread. The phrase in the poem ‘trwy ebostol pwyll aphryderi’ does not mean ‘throughout the epistle [or story/tale] of Pwyll and Pryderi’, but rather ‘throughout the story of wisdom and distress’. The Welsh later confounded Pryderi with their own Peredur son of Efrawc, or ‘Praetor son of York’.
Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval has been considered an Old French form of Pryderi or Peredur, although no one has satisfactorily explained what Perceval means and how it was derived from Peredur. The truth is that Perceval has nothing whatsoever to do with either Pryderi or Peredur!
The Old French Percevel is an attempt to render the early Welsh name Brochwel or Brochfael, anciently Broco-maglos, ‘Badger-prince’. Chretien or his source got the name from the Pillar of Eliseg, a Dark Age memorial stone erected a very short distance from Castell Dinas Bran, the Corbenic or Grail Castle of Arthurian romance (see Chapter 13). This particular Brochwel was a son of Eliseg or Elise, and was born c. 705 CE. But he shares the same name with another Brochwel, called ‘the Tusked’, who was King of Powys at the time of Arthur. The Pillar of Eliseg lists several Powys kings, all ancestors of Brochwel son of Elise, and even mentions Vortigern.
Perceval’s character of ‘country bumpkin’ is a direct development from the name of the kingdom he ruled – Powys. This kingdom name comes from Latin pagus, ‘country district’, but also ‘country people’. The word pagan comes from pagus. In Latin, paganicus means ‘of or belonging to the country, rural, rustic’, and in ecclesiastical writings came to be synonymous with ‘heathenish’.
We will see in Chapter 13 that the Grail associated with Perceval or Brochwel at Dinas Bran/Corbenic was a wholly different object from the one found in the Pryderi story.
The origin of the name Bors or Bohort (variants Bohors, Boort, Bort, Bohortes, etc.), the third of the chief Grail Questers, has long stymied Arthurian scholars. The only progress is determining an etymology is the attempt to compare the name with the noun ‘bohort’, a type of lance.
I believe the connection with ‘bohort’ is correct. We are dealing here with a French rendition of the Paladr Hir epithet of Peredur (‘Praetor’) son of Efrawg (Ebrauc, an eponym for York). Paladr Hir is, literally, ‘Long Spear’, i.e. a lance.
This identification makes excellent sense of Bors or Bohort as one of the greatest of the Grail knights, as Peredur is featured in one of the Mabinogion tales in a pagan precursor of the Grail story.
See Chapter 4, “Myrddin at Avalon.”
Who is Guinevere, the wife and queen of King Arthur? Her name first appears as Guennuvar in Caradoc of Llancarfan’s Life of St. Gildas (c. 1130), a work finished only a few years prior to that of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History (c. 1136). Geoffrey calls her Guanhumara. The Welsh form of her name is Gwenhwyfar, ‘White Spirit’.
She has usually been associated with the Irish sovereignty goddess Findabair. This is certainly correct, since Arthur conquers Ireland immediately after marrying Guanhumara. In other words, a king must marry the Goddess of Sovereignty of Ireland before he can rule over the country.
Triad 56 of the Trioedd Ynys Prydein (The Triads of the Island of Britain) lists the names and patronymics of the ‘Three Great Queens’ of Arthur’s court. To quote this triad in full:
“Three Great Queens of Arthur’s Court: Gwennhwyfar daughter of Cywryd Gwent,
And Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr son of Greidawl, And Gwenhwyfar daughter of (G) ogfran the Giant.” [Trans. by Rachel Bromwich]
There has been some slight discussion of these three ‘great queens’ as a fairly typical Celtic example of a triple goddess, i.e. a goddess split into three aspects. None of the fathers listed in the Welsh triad, however, match the name of the known father of the Irish Findabair, viz. Ailill, ‘the elf, fairy , sprite’.
The three Guineveres can be identified as follows: 1) Gwenhwyfar daughter of Cywryd
Given that n and u were often confused by copyists, and u can become w in certain instances, Cywryd is pretty transparently Cenred, King of Wessex. He had a daughter named Cwenburh, whose name was wrongly associated by the Welsh with the name Gwenhwyfar.
2) Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr
Gwythyr is generally considered a translation of the Roman name ‘Victor’. However, we will see below that Gwythyr is Veteres/Vitires, a god found in northern Britain. Two altars dedicated to Veteres were found at Ebchester, the Romano-British period Vindomora. It is quite possible that at an early date the place name Vindomora was wrongly linked with the personal name Gwenhwyfar, Guenhuuara, Guanhumara. Gwenhwyfar was then linked to the god Veteres/Gwythyr, who was worshipped at Vindomora.
3) Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gogfran (or Ogyrfan, Ogfran) This is the most important of the three Guineveres, as she is the actual wife of King Arthur in early Welsh tradition. A diligent search of British records failed to find any trace of a historical or divine personage upon which this Gwenhwyfar was based. An examination of the Irish sources, however, was more revealing. From the Rawlinson Genealogies:
“Also, Find the Poet sang of the sons of Alb son of Augen the Servant:
Baeth the yellow, firm little white one
Of unimpeded talent, the numerous progeny of Alb. Achir the furious, belly of red (or ‘red spear’?),
Dondubur the beetle, Gabruan who was begotten upon Findubur.
That was all of them.”
It would seem obvious, then, that Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gogfran = Findubur mother of Gabruan. I have not been able to find a reliable etymology for the name Alb, but if at some point this name had been associated with the English word for elf, there may well have been a perceived connection between this Findabair and Finnabair daughter of Ailill ‘the Elf’.
Gwenhwyfar or Guinevere is the preeminent ‘Goddess of Sovereignty’. As such, she represented the kingdom itself, but also the fertile properties of the earth within the boundaries of the kingdom. To rule over his kingdom, Arthur had to have Gwenhwyfar as his queen. When she forsook Arthur for Lancelot (see Lleu below) or Medrawd (Modred, a rendering of the Latin name Moderatus, the later French Mordred), Arthur lost his kingdom. As every man’s home is his castle, Gwenhwyfar should be honoured in the person of one’s female life partner. By virtue of the fact that such a female life partner is the human embodiment of the Goddess of Sovereignty, the sacredness of the male-female bond is reinforced in a positive way. Mistreatment or devaluation of the female partner not only harms her directly, but may force her to seek another ‘king’ in an attempt to reassert her royal prerogatives. The king and his kingdom are also dependent on the queen for any continuance of the royal line. Without her, there can be no heir to the throne. Thus a kingdom without a queen is no kingdom at all, and the absence of the womb that is the home of us all leads only to a desecration of the soul and to the garden in which that soul lives.
In the Harleian genealogies appended to Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, the Old Welsh ‘Lou Hen map Guidgen’ stands for ‘Lleu the Old son of Gwydion’. This means that Gwydion’s name, originally Gwiddien from British Widugenos, ‘Born of Trees’, was later changed to resemble divine names like Amaethon, Gofannon, Mabon, Modron, Rhiannon, Teyrnon. All of these names show the –on suffix, which denotes divinity. Hence Gwiddien became Gwiddion.
Always associated with northwestern Wales, Gwydion was born in the druidic groves of Anglesey, mentioned in the writings of Tacitus. Specifically, he was the god of the ‘Black Grove’ at the Bryn Celli Ddu passage grave site, which was a major ceremonial complex. Gwydion is always striking other personages and objects with his wand, seasonally transforming them through the cycle of death and rebirth. We may compare him with Mercury Viduces of the Lemovices or ‘Elm-fighters’ in Gaul. His wand, given that he resurrects Lleu under an oak tree, is the druidic mistletoe which itself was emblematic of the heavenly lightning that often strikes oak trees. He was not actually the father of Lleu as the Harleian genealogies would suggest (see Math below), but rather the foster-father.
Gwyn son of Nudd is the Welsh manifestation of the Irish Fionn son of Cumhail; he is found also in Scottish tradition. We know this identification is correct because Nudd is the same god as the Irish Nuadu, and Fionn son of Cumhail’s ancestor was Nuadu, chief druid of Cahir Mor. Cumhail is the Gaulish and British god Mars Camulos. His name, like Irish cumall, meant ‘Champion’. Because Fionn’s birth-name was Demne, ‘small deer’, his mother took the form of a deer, his son Oisin is ‘little deer’ and Oscar is ‘deer-lover’, Gwyn of Annwn, who owned the Cwn Annwn or ‘Hounds of Annwn’, was a horned god akin to Herne the Hunter of Windsor Forest (= Cernunnos the ‘Horned One’). It is doubtless because Gwyn was a horned god that he was made the king of Annwn, which in Christian eyes was the equivalent of Hell, ruled over by the horned Devil.
[A Note on Melwas of Glastombury
It has long been thought that Melwas of Glastonbury, the abductor of Guinevere/Gwenhwyfar/Guennuvar in Caradog of Llancarfan’s “Life of Gildas”, was a pagan god of the Tor. His name has been quite plausibly derived from Welsh mael (British maglo-), ‘prince’, plus (g)was, ‘young man’.
Speculation has run rampant as to the identity and nature of this supposed deity. As he is king over the Summer Land that is now Somerset, the story of the abduction of Guinevere and her return after the intervention of St. Gildas has been read as a seasonal myth, with Arthur playing the role of the winter king who can enjoy the company of the goddess only when summer ends.
Melwas (Caradog’s Melvas) has been identified with Gwyn son of Nudd, made the king of Annwn (the Welsh Otherworld/Underworld) in the “Life of St. Collen”. Annwn in this source does appear to be localized at the Tor.
In later French romance, Chretien de Troyes places Lancelot of the Lake (Llwch Llawcaled/Lugh Lamhcalad) at Glastonbury in place of Gildas. As the god Lugh is Lleu in Welsh tradition, a deity identified with Mabon the ‘Divine Son’, some have chosen to identify this god with Melwas.
There is even the possibility that ‘Melvas’ is a creation based on someone’s fanciful reading of Gildas’s name. While no satisfactory etymology exists for Gildas, as he was a priest, we could postulate that a storyteller or writer familiar with Irish could have come up with Irish mael, ‘tonsured’, with gwas being a native substitute for Irish gille, gilla, gilldae, ‘young man’.
This is rather far-fetched, however, and I do not think we can make anything of it.
Rather than looking at Melwas at a title or epithet for another deity, why not see if we can find an actual historical person of Arthur’s time who fits the bill?
We know of a Meliau, Prince of Cornouaille in Brittany. According to the “Life of St. Melor” he was a son of Budic and reigned in Cornouaile for seven years (c. 530-537). He was treacherously slain by his brother Rivold. In the “Life of St. Malo”, he is made into a chieftain of Domnonee in Brittany. In 1366, Bishop Grandisson imagined that Domnonia and Cornubia meant Devon and Cornwall, rather than Domnonee and Cornouaille (see Bartrum). In Latin, Meliau is Meliavus.
Why mention the saint in the context of the Melwas story? Because he would appear to be the same man as the Macliaw (for Magliaw, the same name as Meliau) mentioned by Greogory of Tours in his “History of the Franks”. There, in Book IV.4, a very strange tale is told of Macliaw (c. mid 6th century). I will quote the relevant section here:
“A Breton Count called Chanao [cf. Welsh Ceneu, ‘whelp’] killed three of his brothers. He seized the fourth brother Macliaw and kept him chained up in prison while he was summoning up courage to kill him, too… Macliaw swore to his brother that he would be faithful to him. For some reason or other he decided to break his oath. Chanao heard of this and pursued him a second time. When Macliaw realized that he could not escape he took refuge with another Breton Count called Chonomor. When Chonomor discovered that Macliaw’s enemies were approaching, he hid him in a hole in the ground. He constructed a barrow on top, as their habit is in Brittany, but he left a little air-hole, so that Macliaw could breathe. Those who were pursuing Macliaw duly arrived. ‘Macliaw is dead,’ they were told. ‘We buried him here.’ They were so delighted at the news that they sat down on the tumulus and had a drink. When they returned home they told Chanao that his brother was dead….”
Chonomor is the same name as the Cunomorus/Cynfor known as a king in Cornwall from British sources and from the famous ‘Tristan Stone’. Some have guessed that Chonomor may BE Cunomorus and that this king held lands both in Cornwall and in Brittany.
What seems pretty obvious to me is that Meliau/Meliavus/Macliaw is the person who lies behind the legendary story of Melwas of Glastonbury. The latter came to be seen as someone who lived INSIDE THE TOR, precisely because Macliaw was placed INSIDE THE BARROW MOUND in the tale preserved by Gregory of Tours. Guinnuvar of the “Life of Gildas” is a substitute for Chonomor. There was confusion from early on about Cornouaille and Domnonee versus Cornwall and Devon. Meliau was placed in different Saints’ Lives in both Cornouaille and Domnonee. In the “Life of Gildas”, Arthur is called the king of “Cornubiae et Dibneniae”, i.e. Cornwall and Devon.
Thus Meliau/Meliavus, who actually belonged to his barrow mound in Brittany, was placed inside the Tor in what was originally part of Dumnonia/Devon. And by doing so he promptly became Melwas, the ‘Youthful Prince’ of the Summer Land.]
This god is ‘Summer-bright’, the constellation of Scorpio. Hafgan is the enemy of Arawn or ‘Orion’ because the latter is the constellation of winter, while the former is the constellation of summer. They are thus in eternal conflict, with each ruling the underworld of Annwn by turns. In July, Orion is lying just above the eastern horizon at dawn. By late winter, Orion sets in the west just as light appears in the east. The opposite is, of course, true of Hafgan the
Scorpion: he appears in the east at dawn in late winter when Arawn the Hunter drops below the western horizon. He himself is setting in the west at dawn in late summer, when Orion again appears in the east. Hafgan was the native name for the Scorpion constellation. Unfortunately, the Welsh name for the constellation of Orion is unknown.
Emain Macha of Ireland, rather than being explained as the ‘Twins of Macha’, which makes very little sense despite the aetiological tale invented to account for it, should be read as ‘the Swift One [Imona] of the Plain’. The horse goddess of this royal site, in other words, was originally named Imona. While Celtic *magos regularly yields ‘field, plain’, it is now believed there was also a *makaja- which would produce Macha. It may also be that Imona’s name is found in that of Imanuentius (see Manawydan below), the father of the Mandubracius known in Welsh tradition as Gwair Golden-hair.
Much has been written on the god Lleu, and I do not intend to repeat that here. What is important for an Arthurian druid to recognize is that Lleu was paramount at Carlisle/Luguvalium, the fort that was ‘Lugos-strong’, which together with neighbouring Stanwix was Arthur’s power centre. Medrawd or Modred was said by Geoffrey of Monmouth to be the son of Loth of Lothian, i.e. of Lleuddiniawn, the Place of the Fort of Lleu, but the Welsh corrected this by making him a son of Lleu. Modred is from the Roman name Moderatus, and we know of an important Roman of this name who was active in the Cumbrian region. The later British royalty of the region may well have continued to use the name for their sons and it is thus more likely that Modred was from Luguvalium, the Welsh Caerliwelydd, rather than from Lothian. The Camlann of Modred and Arthur was the Camboglanna Roman fort, only a short distance to the east of Carlisle.
The wise eagle Eliwlod with whom Arthur converses in an early poem is El(e)i-(g)wlad, ‘Ely [River] Prince’ (for W. gwlad with this meaning, cf. Irish flaith; see THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY.)
The wise eagle Eliwlod with whom Arthur converses in an early poem is El(e)i-(g)wlad, ‘Ely [River] Prince’ (for W. gwlad with this meaning, cf. Irish flaith; see THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY.)
Lleu is also Lleuelys of the Lludd and Lleuelys tale, which will be discussed in detail in Chapter 15. Lleuelys or, rather, Lleu(v)elys, is from Welsh Lleu + melys. The name means Lleu the ‘Delightful, Agreeable, Pleasant, Charming’. And, finally, there is Lancelot of the Lake to consider. Arthur’s greatest knight is the Irish Lugh (= Welsh Lleu) in disguise. In the early Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwn, Arthur is accompanied to the Otherworld on a quest for a magical cauldron by a personage called Lluch Lleawc (or, as other translators would have it, lluch, ‘bright, shining’, is an adjective meant to be applied to the sword brandished by Lleawc). In the same poem, this Lluch Lleawc (or simply Lleawc) is provided with an epithet, Lleminawc. Some have interpreted this epithet as meaning ‘the Leaping One’ (from W. llam, ‘leap’), but most prefer to see it as a slight corruption of an epithet belonging to the Irish god Lugh, whose name is found in Welsh sources as Llwch or Lloch (a word also meaning loch, i.e. ‘lake’). The epithet in question is Llawwynnawc (variants Llawwynnyawc, Llauynnauc), i.e. Llwch Windy-Hand or Striking-Hand. In Irish tradition, Lugh had epithets such as Lonnbemnech, ‘of the fierce blows’, and Lamhfota, ‘of the long hand’. The Welsh Lleu had a similar epithet, namely Llaw Gyffes or ‘Skillful-hand’.
The same Lugh/Llwch appears elsewhere in Welsh tradition as Llenlleog Gwyddel, Llenlleog the Irishman. In the story Culhwch and Olwen, it is Llenlleog who brandishes the sword in the cauldron story, rather than Lluch Lleawc (or Lleawc), who is called Lleminawc.
We may begin with Llwch Llawwynnauc, which is probably a Welsh substitute for the Irish Lugh Lonnbemnech. This became Lluch or Lleawc Lleminauc in
The Spoils of Annwn. And Lleminauc became Culhwch and Olwen’s Llenlleawc the Irishman.
Lugh Lonnbemnech >
Llwch Llawwynnauc >
Lluch/Lleawc Lleminauc >
Which leads us to our next question: if Lancelot du Lac = Lugh ‘Lancelot’, with Lancelot being an epithet, what is Lancelot from?
This is pretty obviously an Old French attempt at either Irish Lamhcalad, ‘Hard-hand’, or Welsh Llawcaled with the same meaning. The calad or caled is, of course, the same word we find in the name of Arthur’s sword, Caledfwlch. In other words, Lleu’s/Lugh’s hand is the lightning, a divine weapon symbolized by Arthur’s own weapon.
Llenlleoc the Irishman, i.e. Lugh/Llwch the Irishman, is found in Geoffrey of Monmouth as Lucius Hiberus. No known extant written source or inscription records a Lucius Hiberus or Lucius of Iberia in Spain. Roger Sherman Loomis, the great Arthurian scholar, long ago cited Rev. Acton Griscom’s observation “that the best MS. Authority calls Arthur’s antagonist Lucius Hiberus, and since n is constantly indicated in MSS. by a dash over the preceding letter, nothing could be easier than for Hibernus to become Hiberus.”
Hibernus, of course, means ‘Irishman’ or ‘from Ireland’. We can be relatively confident, therefore, that Lucius Hiberus is actually Llwch Hibernus or the god Lugh of Ireland.
Being able to identify Lancelot of the Lake with Lucius Hibernus/Lugh of Ireland allows us to account for an odd parallel that exists in Geoffrey’s story of the end of Arthur’s kingdom and in the version of the same story which is found in the French romances. In the first, Arthur is battling Lucius/Lugh in Gaul when Medrawd/Modred/Mordred rebels in Britain and takes over his queen and his kingdom. Arthur returns to battle Medrawd and perish at Camblann (Camlann). In the French sources, Lancelot of the Lake takes Guinevere with him to Gaul. Arthur pursues Lancelot and lays siege to the latter’s castle. It is while the siege is in progress that word comes to Arthur of Mordred’s betrayal and he must return to Britain for the fatal battle.
Thus, not only the names, but the story motifs featuring Lucius Hibernus/Lugh of Ireland and Lancelot of the Lake, match. The only reasonable conclusion is that Lucius and Lugh are one and the same divine character.
In later Arthurian romance, Perceval the Achiever of the Holy Grail is replaced by Galahad or Galaad, the son of Lancelot by Elaine, daughter of Pelles (= Beli) of Corbenic/Castell Dinas Bran. Elaine is here for the Alyn River, which is from the Celtic *alauna, ‘shining’. The Alyn is a tributary of the Dee, which the hill of Dinas Bran overlooks. Welsh tradition records that a Beli son of Benlli the Giant was slain and buried at Y Maes Mawr, ‘The Great Plain’. This plain is between Ial and Ystrad (‘Strath’ or Valley) Alun, near the hill-fort of Moel Benlli. Such a location places it not far to the north of Dinas Bran. While the Mabinogion hero Gwalhafad son of Gwyar, brother of Gwalchmai, of whom nothing is known, has been proposed as the prototype for Galahad, the Vulgate’s claim that Lancelot’s birth-name was Galahad suggests a different derivation. According to this source, Lancelot is named ‘du Lac’ or ‘of the Lake’ because he was brought up by the Lady of the Lake. As we have seen, this ‘Lac’ is for Llwch, the Welsh spelling of Irish Lugh. But his baptismal name was Galahad in honour of the younger son of Joseph of Arimathea and the first Christian king of Wales.
Years ago I made a case for St. Gildas/Gweltas being the prototype for the Arthurian Galahad or Galaad. My reason for thinking this might be a good argument had to do with Lancelot being substituted in the Melwas/Meleagant story at Glastonbury for the saint.
I was not, however, satisfied with the linguistics of the identification and went on to explore other possibilities. Arthurian scholars had long pointed out the marked resemblance between the name Galaad and the Latin form of the Biblical territory name Gilead. While this is an interesting coincidence, it is a poor explanation for the origin of this character.
I tried to show that Galahad/Galaad was from Welsh gwlad, ‘land, country’ or, more specifically, gwledig, ‘ruler’, the latter being the epithet of the Ambrosius who was equated with the god Lleu of NW Wales. This made good sense, as Lancelot of the Lake is himself “Llwch (a Welsh rendering of the Irish Lugh and, incidentally, the word for ‘loch’, i.e. lake) of the Hard-hand (Ir. Lamhcalad, W. Llawcaled). Galahad is said to have been Lancelot’s birth name.
However, there are a couple of problems with this idea. First, we know Ambrosius is present in the Vulgate, where he is called Pendragon. And second, it is highly unlikely the writers of the Grail romances would have made a known pagan god the achiever of the Grail. In fact, it was Lancelot’s pagan nature, as evinced by his adulterous love affair with Guinevere (= the Irish Sovereignty Goddess Findabhair), that PREVENTS him from achieving the Grail Quest.
My departure point for a new look at Galahad as Gildas (or Gweltas – either his Breton name or another saint he was wrongly identified with) is the Case Castle where, according to the Vulgate, Galahad was conceived. This castle was a couple of leagues or approximately five miles from the Corbenic I’ve shown conclusively (see my THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON) to be Castell Dinas Bran. ‘Case’ is here the French attempt at Coch or Goch, W. ‘red’, and is the native name of what is now called Ruthin Castle. Ruthin is actually about a dozen miles NNW of Dinas Bran, but is certainly the right Red Castle. How do I know this?
Because Ruthin contains the Maen Huail or Stone of Huail, a monument named for a known BROTHER OF GILDAS. A local story connects Arthur with the killing of Huail. In the Life of St. Gildas by Caradog of Llancarfan, the killing of Huail takes place elsewhere, but Arthur receives forgiveness for the slaying from Gildas and does the appropriate penance.
While this may seem very slight circumstantial evidence for Galahad at Ruthin being Gildas, there is yet another important fact to consider. Galahad spends his infancy at Corbenic, but is raised at an abbey near Camelot. I’m demonstrated in earlier studies that Camelot is the French version of the Campus Elleti found in the 9th century work attributed to Nennius, the Historia Brittonum. This place is situated in the Ely Valley of Glamorgan. The famous monastery of Llancarfan, where St. Gildas spent a considerable period of time, is only a few miles SSW of the Ely Valley.
There is thus little doubt in my mind now that Sir Galahad is none other than St. Gildas, perhaps the most famous Welsh saint of the Dark Ages.
Significantly, St. Gildas is said to have been buried in two different places. One is Rhuys in Brittany. The other is Glastonbury, the Avalon of later Arthurian romance. Now, according to the Vulgate Grail romances, Galahad dies and is buried in Sarras, where a king Escorante (or Escoras, Estorause) had previously ruled.
The standard interpretation of Sarras is that it represents the capital city of the Saracens – which is quite ridiculous, actually. The Grail romance writers would scarcely have committed such a major anachronistic blunder. Arthur and his knights were not contemporaries of the Crusade period. Their floruit did not correspond to that of the Moslem Sultans who ruled over Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus in the time period in which the Grail romances were written.
Sarras is the peninsula of Sarzeau, on the tip of which is Rhuys. I had mentioned this place in an earlier examination of Sarras, and am now quite content in suggesting the two locations are the same. Thus Rhuys, founded in the 6th century by Gildas – or, rather, St. Gweltas – is the city of both Escorante and Galahad.
Who, however, is Escorante? This name is very similar to that of the 6th century St. Corentin (called Corenti in a medieval document which refers to the church of Cury near Helston in Cornwall). Corentin was of Plomodiern, 30 km NNE of Quimper. He later became the first bishop of Quimper, at that time called Cornugallia, i.e. Cornouaille. The monastery of Rhuys was in Cornouaille.
St. Corentin is noted for having had a miraculous fish that could be eaten of, but then placed back in a fountain where it would become live and whole again. We are reminded, of course, of the fish of the Fisher King, which (being emblematic of the Body of Christ) fed thousands at the Grail Table. This parallel motif may have caused the Grail romancers to bring Corentin as Escorante into the orbit of Galahad/Gweltas/Gildas of Rhuys in Sarzeau/Sarras.
Another possibility for Escorante is Carantoc, one form of the name of St. Carantoc/Carranog, whose miraculous altar figures largely in the story of Arthur in that saint’s vita or “life”. In fact, Arthur wants to make a table out of the altar. The Grail romance writers assure us that Arthur’s Round Table was modeled upon the Table of the Last Supper, itself the prototypical Grail Table. We are told in the Quest of the Holy Grail that Galahad and his companions take the table of the Maimed King with them in the boat that takes them from Logres to Sarras.
Lleu or “Lancelot” was the greatest pan-Celtic sun god. His eagle form atop an oak tree in the Math son of Mathonwy story shows that he had also taken on Jupiter or Sky Father aspects. As the Irish stories of Lugh make plain, this god was indeed skilled at everything. He was even the patron deity of shoemakers! For this reason he is the male counterpart of the goddess Brigantia/Bridget and any man who wishes to be guided by the Light of Lleu will never find himself lost in life.
This is merely the Welsh word for ‘Sea’ and is the same as the Irish Lir. As such, he is the sea god. Anyone who must travel by sea or who makes their livelihood from the sea should call on him for good fortune. Those who live in coastal regions should also pray to him for protection from those storms and floods that have their origin in the sea. He is also the god of those creatures like salmon who spend part of their time in the sea, but the remainder in rivers and streams.
The ‘Divine Son’ was identified by the Welsh with Lleu. Yet Mabon was very important in his own right, and doubtless had his own independent existence prior to his being identified with Lleu. Mabon had his principal cult centre at the Roman fort of Ladyward in Dumfries. Near this fort is Lochmaben, the Lake of Mabon, and just south is the Clochmabenstane or Stone of Mabon, the lone survivor of what was once an impressive stone circle. These sites are just a little to the northwest of Arthur’s ruling centre at Stanwix/Carlisle. The Romans called one or the other of these sites the ‘loci Maponi’ or ‘place of Maponus’. The Roman period Maporitum or ‘Son’s Ford’ may have been a crossing on a stream at Ladyward. The importance to these sites for the region is emphasised in an ancient Welsh poem which refers to Dumfries as ‘Gwlad Mabon’, the ‘Country of Mabon’.
The other major shrine of Mabon or Apollo Maponus as he was called in the Roman period was at Corbridge further east on Hadrian’s Wall. The Romano-British Maponus was identified with Apollo the sun god in his capacity as healer; the Ribchester inscription invokes him for the health of the Emperor and the soldiers garrisoning the fort. An altar found near Corbridge shows that Maponus was also associated with Apollo as Citharoedus or ‘Lyre-player’.
In Gaul he was invoked on a curse tablet, and the Welsh Culhwch and Olwen depicts him as a mighty hunter and master of a supernatural hound, a role which may be reflected in the Apollo Cunomaglos or ‘Hound-lord’ known from Nettleton Shrub in Wiltshire.
Mabon is made a prisoner at Caer Gloyw or Gloucester in Culhwch and Olwen. Gloyw is from the Romano-British period town-name Glevum, and means in Welsh ‘bright’. As such it is symbolic of the Otherworld Castle. To be a prisoner in the Otherworld is to be dead and awaiting rebirth.
At the Abbey of Savigny in France there was anciently a Mabono fonte or ‘Well of Mabon’; this tells us that the young sun also presided over healing springs.
Mabon’s mother was Modron, the Romano-British Matrona who appears as St. Madrun at the Kirkmadrines to either side of Dunragit. Mabon’s father is not known with any certainty, although he is called son of Mellt or ‘Lightning’. This strongly suggests that his father was Taran the Celtic thunder-god, as lightning striking the earth was seen symbolically as the sky-father mating with the earth-mother. Certainly we know that Zeus/Jupiter was father of Apollo, with whom Maponus was identified by the Romans. And, indeed, one of Jupiter’s epithets was Fulgor, ‘Lightning’.
Mabon is the god of youth, particularly of male youth. Boys and young men would do well to model themselves upon Mabon. He may also be called upon by parents seeking the wisdom to properly guide their male children, and can help both parents and adolescent boys make the often challenging transition into manhood. Boys should also seek his aid for healing purposes, for contests in music or poetry and for the pursuing of personal goals or physical objects that are not deemed immediately obtainable. He can also help a young person avert frustration or discouragement and instil the confidence necessary for good self-esteem. Because he is the god of Light and all things good and right and true, he can provide the kind of moral compass that does not rely upon threats or fear for its effectiveness. As Mabon had his counterpart in the Irish Mac Og or ‘Young Son’, otherwise known as Aonghus Og, who was both an excellent ball-player and the god of romantic attachment, Mabon may also be invoked for strength, speed, endurance, courage and victory in athletic events as well as success in love. Finally, Mabon should be seen as the shepherd of the young in numinous places like stone circles, henges, holy groves, wells and Otherworld houses. Aonghus Og was the owner of Bruigh na Boinne, the famous chambered tomb of Newgrange in Ireland, where Lugh is placed in the story of Dechtine, mother of Cuchulainn. We have seen how Mabon has his own stone circle in Dumfries, and was rescued from the Otherworld Castle of Caer Gloyw. His counterpart for girls would have to be Brigantia/Bridget, one of whose aspects was the ever-virgin goddess.
The name Manawydan is a strange conflation of two names. He represents a late Welsh attempt at Imanuentius, father of Mandubracius, who was fused with the Irish god, Manannan son of Lir.
The result was a Mabinogion hero who has a great deal to do with Gwair/Mandubracius and Rhiannon, but nothing whatsoever to do with the sea! Irish Manannan was derived from the place-name Manau, itself from British man-, a variant of mon-, ‘Mountain’. This was used for the Isle of Man by the Irish. He was, quite literally, the hill or mountain that arose from the sea. As such he was also the god of Mona (modern Anglesey) and of the region of Manau Gododdin at the head of the Firth of Forth, where we find Clackmannan, ‘Stone of Manau’, and Slamannan, ‘Mountain of Manau’. He is most certainly not a sea god like his father Lir, as he has often been presented. Rather, he occupied an important intermediary position between sea and sky and was, therefore, a figure not unlike the Greek Atlas, the earth-mountain who held up the sky and separated the waters above from the waters below. But he was used by seafarers, who on clear days could see him on the horizon from far away. Call upon Manawydan for stability, when you need a firm foundation, when you feel surrounded and powerless, over-burdened or when you need a sign as to which direction to go.
This god‘s name means ‘the Good One’, which for the ancient Celts was a taboo name for the bear. Goewin, the Clawing Cat moon-mother of Lleu, was his foot-holder, and he transformed Gywdion and Gilfaethwy into different animals who symbolized seasonal transformations. Math may be invoked for the overwhelming strength and ferocity that resides in the bear, but also for help in withstanding unavoidable states of dormancy, which like a bear’s hibernation eventually lead to renewed activity. The bear knows the importance of stocking up on resources for future needs. The patronymic Mathonwy means “territory of the tribe of the divine bear” (cf. Mathon with the Matunus bear god at Risingham).
Ann Ross derives this name from mago-, mogo- and translates 'The Great One' (Pagan Celtic Britain, p. 375). J. Loth mentions a stem *mag- 'great, grow' in connection with Middle Welsh maon from the Gododdin which he renders 'great ones' etc. (Revue celtique, 40 (1923), 342-43).
This deity is a Germanic import. Rivet and Smith (in their The Place-Names of Roman Britain) are doubtless correct when discussing this god name under their entry for Magantia:
“It is worth noting that the Celto-Roman name of Mainz (Germany), properly Mogontiacum, was in the reduced form of late Imperial times Moguntia, often spelled Magontia, Magentia, Magantia; the mog- root is the same ultimately as mag-, and in that form is the base of the divine name Mogons (the dative, in dedications, is Deo Mogonti)… the cult of this god seems to have been fundamentally Germanic, and was brought from the middle Rhine by the Vangiones who garrisoned Risingham…”
The son of the crone Ceridwen of Penllyn, the ‘Chief Lake’ that is now known as Lake Tegid or Bala Lake, was named Morfran Afagddu. This name means ‘Sea-Raven the Utterly Dark’. Because he is on Lake Tegid and we have Irish Fiach Mara or ‘Sea-Raven’ as a name for the cormorant, this tells us much about Ceridwen’s cauldron. Morfran was set at the cauldron to wait for the magical drops to come flying out. Gwiawn Bach, the first incarnation of the poet Taliesin, was set to tend the fire under the cauldron, while a blind man stirred it. Anyone who observes cormorants is aware of their peculiar habit of spreading their wings for several minutes to heat up in the sun before they begin their daily fishing in a lake or the sea. This is what Morfran is doing in front of the cauldron which is symbolic of Penllyn itself. The fire Gwiawn Bach keeps perpetually stoked is the sun, which warms the waters of the lake. The waters of the lake are stirred by the wind, and this accounts for the blind man of the story. Perhaps significantly, the Irish also call the cormorant the Cailleach Dubh, i.e. the ‘Black Hag’. So it is quite possible that the story-teller mistakenly assumed Morfran was a second character, when in reality the cormorant was Ceridwen herself in bird form. Lakes were possessed of great spiritual power for the ancient Celts as they were liminal places, in essence being portals to and from the Otherworld. This is why sacrificial victims were submerged in bogs, and why weapons and other items, often first ritually destroyed, were deposited as votive items. Ceridwen as the goddess of the lake-cauldron should be called upon not only for the brewing of potions, but as the cormorant that can dive into and swim through the watery boundary that exists between our world and the next.
Nudd or Lludd means ‘He Who Acquires or Catches’. In the Romano-British period he was known as Mars Nodens and he had his temple at Lydney Park on the Bristol Channel. We have seen above that he was also known to the Welsh through his epithet Bedwyr, the ‘Battle-king’. There will be more to say about him in Chapter 15, as he plays a role in the Everlasting Battle of the Red and White Dragons.
This goddess’s name is conventionally thought to be Ol(g)wen, ‘White track’. The name is explained by the fact that wherever she went, four white trefoils (flowers with three petals) sprang up in her wake. These four white flowers provide us with the numbers 4 x 3, the total number of months and zodiacal signs in a solar year. Each flower, then, represents the sun in three months of the solar year. These three-month seasonal groupings are divided by the two solstices and the two equinoxes. But the trefoils may also represent triskele petroglyphs. A triskele is a conjoined triple spiral decorative motif found in Neolithic/Bronze Age rock carvings. The rings Olwen is said to have left in her
washing bowl is an obvious reference to ring marks encircling a cup mark. Such ‘cup and ring marks’ are common on stones in Britain, where they are often found in a sepulchral context.
Although Olwen’s name has been interpreted as a Welsh form of the Irish word alaind, ‘lovely, fine, splendid’, her connection with cup and ring marks confirms the ‘White Track’ derivation. Why? Because the concentric circles or ‘rings’ that often surround the cup marks are often pierced by a channel that radiates out from the cup and continues well outside the outermost circle. This channel is sometimes termed a gutter or duct. I would identify it as the original ‘white track’ of the goddess Olwen.
The Newgrange barrow tomb in Ireland, which was designed to admit the rays of the sun to its innermost burial chamber only during a handful of days to either side of the Winter Solstice, is covered with sun spirals. Often these spirals are interlocking, and some wind inwards toward the center and then unwind back out. The most famous ‘triple spiral’ – to which we may compare Olwen’s trefoil - is on a stone in the end recess of the tomb chamber. The three spirals here are connected, and each winds inwards and then back out again. This symbol is struck by the midwinter morning light of the sun. The midwinter sun was the sun of rebirth; at the winter solstice, the days begin to grow longer again. In the same way the sun is reborn on this day, the sacred royal ancesters who had been buried in Newgrange - themselves identified or become one with the sun god - would be reborn.
Thus in the ‘track’ of Olwen, the ‘gutter’ of the cup and ring petroglyphs, we must see the sunlight that issues forth from the sun at midwinter and passes into the Underworld, ending winter, resurrecting the divine dead and bringing the promise of renewed life to earth. The spirals that wind and unwind may even be symbolic of the sun’s annual circular journey along the elliptic, the center of such spirals being the solstice, where the sun stops and reverses direction.
A spiral is carved on one of the wallstones of the burial chamber of Bryn Celli Ddu or ‘Hill of the Black Grove’ in Anglesey. The passage of the chamber at Bryn Celli Ddu was constructed so as to let in the sunlight – Olwen’s white track – on the morning of the Summer Solstice. We have seen above how Gwydion was the god of this Black Grove.
While Rhiannon the Divine Queen has all the characteristics of Epona the horse goddess, she might in reality be the wife of Imanuentius, a human incarnation of Epona rather than Epona herself. All the various Celtic stories which deal with Goddesses of Sovereignty neglect to mention that behind the divine figures are the flesh and blood women who bore the king’s royal sons. That the queen would be acknowledged as sacred by virtue of her identification with the goddess is certain. The lines between mortal and immortal would be intentionally blurred. And over the centuries, the human element would naturally be lost. But whether Rhiannon was Epona or a human incarnation of Epona, we will see in Chapter 13 below that the original ‘Grail’ of the cavalryman Arthur was none other than her own patera, used to hold offerings of grain. Beyond serving this vitally important fertility function, she was chiefly a mother goddess. Mandubracius the king of the Trinovantes was her son. And because the first part of his name meant ‘little horse, pony’, he was also her foal. She provided mother’s milk to the young, and grain to horses and men once they were weaned. Roman soldiers saw in her the archetypical mare, from whom all of their cavalry horses had descended. Hence her image was kept in the stables of the Roman forts to watch over the military mounts. As the story Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed makes clear, she was praised for her fleetness; she was, after all, Imona ‘the Swift One’.
Terynon Twrf Liant
This is the ‘Divine Lord Roar(ing) Sea’. He is the male complement to the female Rhiannon, ‘Divine Queen’. But he is also Imanuentius, father of Mandubracius/Gwair, referred to as the sea because he was conflated with the Irish Manannan son of Lir. The Roman Neptune, god of the sea, was the god of horses and horse racing. As such, he was actually referred to as Neptune Equestris. His epithet is the Latin version of the hippios or hippeios title applied to the Greek sea god Poseidon. So if Manannan son of the ‘Sea’ had been viewed as a sea god, and it was known that Neptune god of the sea was the god of horses, then it would be a simple step to confuse Imanuentius – a chieftain named for Imona the horse goddess who was married to an Epona-queen who gave him a son bearing a Mandu- or ‘Horse’ name – for Manannan and thus create the Divine Lord Roaring Sea. The real Teyrnon was Imanuentius, but he was not a sea god. He was a sacred horse-king of the Trinovantes tribe.
The god Veteres is found in North Britain, especially in the area of Hadrian’s Wall. My interest in this deity stems from his being conflated with Mogons at Netherby, site of the Roman fort Castra Exploratum hard by Liddel Strength, the Arderydd fort of Myrddin/Merlin. In an earlier version of this book, I attempted to relate this god’s name to an ancient name for a willow branch.
While authorities have thought the name rather transparently drew upon the Latin veteres or veteris, meaning in this context something like “the Old One”, there is a significant problem with this interpretation. Some of the spellings of this deity's name have an initial H-. Now, the H- could be intrusive, i.e. merely something German-speaking worshippers of a Celtic god added to the beginning of the name. If this is so, I thought it might be possible to derive the god’s name from a known Celtic root meaning ‘to hunt’. My query on this possibility was answered by Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales as follows:
“Welsh gwid derives from a participle *wi-to- 'hunted, desired' or *wi-ti- 'the hunt, enjoyment (of food)' according to GPC. The second form looks compatible with the forms in Viti-, but does not explain those in *Vete- (unless these are examples of Vulgar Latin <e> for <i>). As for the ending -ris, it could be from -ri:x 'king'. Kenneth Jackson (LHEB 535, 625) states that -x (i.e. /xs/) had become -s in Brittonic 'by the fifth century'. This is rather late, and at any rate it has been challenged by Patrick Sims-Williams. However, one might compare a 3rd century inscription from Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall: CVNARIS < *Cunori:x 'hound-like king'. Here the change of composition vowel /o/ > /a/ suggests this is probably an Irish name. So, Irish influence could account for -x > -s in your name too. Alternatively, there are Vulgar Latin examples of -s for -x, e.g. felis for felix.”
If this is so, we might suppose Veteres to be something like “Hunter-king”.
However, attractive as this idea is, I think there is a better etymology for this particular god-name. Recent correspondence with Professor Ranko Matasovic, a leading Celticist, helped open the way to this more attractive meaning.
The H- spellings of Veteris are listed in Guy de la Bedoyere’s “Gods and Goddesses of Roman Britain”:
Hveterus/Hviteres, and variants.
Carrawburgh: altar to the Hviteres. RIB 1549
Hadrian's Wall (exact location unknown): altar to the Hvitires. RIB 2069
Housesteads: altar to Hveteris by Superstes and Regulus. RIB 1602
Housesteads: altar to Hvitris by Aspuanis. RIB 1603
Netherby: altars to Hveterus and Hvetirus. RIB 969 and 973
The other forms/spellings, and distribution of the dedications (from the same source), are as follows:
Veter/Veteres/Vheteris/Viter/Vitiris/Votris, variously male or female, singular or plural, and numerous other variants.
Benwell: altar to Vetris. RIB 1335
Benwell: altar to the Vitires. RIB 1336
Carrawburgh: altar to Veteris by Uccus. RIB 1548
Carvoran: altar to Veteris by Necalames. RIB 1793
Carvoran: altar to Veteris by Necalames. RIB 1794
Carvoran: altar to Vetiris by Julius Pastor, imaginifer of cohors II Delmatarum. RIB 1795
Carvoran: altar to Vetiris by Andiatis. RIB 1796
Carvoran: altar to Veteris. RIB 1797
Carvoran: altar to Viteris. RIB 1798
Carvoran: altar to Vitiris by Menius Dada. RIB 1799
Carvoran: altar to Vitiris by Milus and Aurides. RIB 1800
Carvoran: altar to Vitiris by Ne[ca]limes (sic, but see 1793-4 above). RIB 1801
Carvoran: altars to the Veteres. RIB 1802-4
Carvoran: altar to the Vitires by Deccius. RIB 1805
Catterick: altar to Vheteris by Aurelius Mucianus. RIB 727
Chester-le-Street: altar to Vitiris by Duihno. RIB 1046
Chester-le-Street: altar to the goddesses the Vitires by Vitalis. RIB 1047
Chester-le-Street: altar to the goddesses the Vit(ires). RIB 1048
Chesters: altar to Vitiris by Tertulus. RIB 1455
Chesters: altar to the Veteres. RIB 1456
Chesters: altar to Vitiris. RIB 1457
Chesters: altar to Votris. RIB 1458
Corbridge: altar to Vetiris. RIB 1139
Corbridge: altar to Vitiris. RIB 1140
Corbridge: altar to Vit(iris) by Mitius. RIB 1141
Ebchester: altar to Vitiris by Maximus. RIB 1103
Ebchester: altar to Vitiris. RIB 1104
Greatchesters: altar to Vetiris. RIB 1728
Greatchesters: altar to the Veteres by Romana. RIB 1729
Greatchesters: altar to the Veteres. RIB 1730
Hadrian's Wall (exact location unknown): altar to Veteris. RIB 2068
Housesteads: altar to the Veteres. RIB 1604
Housesteads: altar to the Veteres. RIB 1605
Housesteads: altar to the Veteres by Aurelius Victor. RIB 1606
Lanchester: altar to Vit(iris). RIB 1087
Lanchester: altar to Vitiris by [....], princeps. RIB 1088
Piercebridge: altar to Veteris. Brit. v (1974), 461, no. 3
South Shields: altar to Vitiris by Cr[...]. Brit. xviii (1987), 368, no. 7
Thistleton: silver plaque to Vete[ris] by Mocux[s]oma. RIB 2431.3
Vindolanda: altar to [V]ete[r]is. RIB 1697
Vindolanda: altar to Veteris. RIB 1698
Vindolanda: altar to the Veteres by Senaculus. RIB 1699
Vindolanda: altar to the Veteres by Longinus. Brit. iv (1973), 329, no. 11
Vindolanda: altar to the Veteres by Senilis. Brit. iv (1973), 329, no. 12
Vindolanda: altar to Vetir. Brit. vi (1975), 285, no. 6
Vindolanda: altar to Ve[ter]. Brit. vi (1975), 285, no. 7
Vindolanda: altar to the Vitirum. Brit. x (1979), 346, no. 8
York: altar to Veter by Primulus. RIB 660
This is the inscription with the conflation with Mogons at Netherby:
V S L M
And the dedications at Netherby to Hveterus and Hvetirus, alluded to already above:
969 (altar; secondary inscription)
When I looked at the initial H-, I first thought of an aspirate, such as the H- we now use conventionally for the Greek name Hekate, originally ‘ekata. I also thought about the Irish H-prothesis. Neither of these ideas seemed very helpful, but I did have one last possibility come to mind: what about something akin to Old English hwyttre, hwitere, forms of the word hwit, meaning “white”? I thought of this because the Chesterholm Roman fort was called Vindolanda, the ‘White Moor/Heath’. This fort has the second highest concentration of dedications to Veteris; only Carvoran has more. And this means Vindolanda could, conceivably, be the cult center of Veteres. Netherby, where we find Mogons Veteres, is hard by the ‘White Dales’ of Myrddin.
Old English hwīt (comparative hwītra, superlative hwītost), “white”
Proto-Germanic *hwītaz, from Proto-Indo-European *kweit-. Cognate with Old High German wīz (German weiß), Old Norse hvítr (Swedish vit).
Spellings in declension such as hwitre, etc.
When I wrote to Professor Matasovic about this, he responded thusly:
“OE hwitere is a good formal match to Viteris. But the word for 'white' is inherited in Germanic, of course (cf. its correspondent in Lith. kviečiai 'wheat'); it is not a borrowing from Celtic. Irish h-prothesis is much older, and in Greek h- is from *s- or *sw-, so the spelling hv- in Vitires probably indicates that the name is not Celtic. The connection with Vindolanda seems attractive, if this god was really worshipped there, but the etymology will work only if the name is Germanic. Were there Germanic mercenaries or auxiliary troops in Vindolanda and other places where Vitires is attested? If so, the connection of Vitiris with 'white' is quite convincing, as far as etymologies of proper names go.”
The answer to his question about Germanic units being present at Vindolanda, etc., could be answered with a resounding YES.
Here is a nice summary regarding the Germanic Tungri and Batavii at Vindolanda (from ‘Archaeological and Historical Aspects of West-European Societies”, ed. Marc Lodewuckx, 1996):
“… from AD 90 at the latest the cohors I Tungrorum was stationed in the fort at Vindolanda. The unit remained there, with only a brief interruption, most likely until 122 or possibly even until AD 140… It was originally assumed that very soon after AD 90 the Cohors I Tungrorum was relieved from Vindolanda by the Cohors IX Batavorum under the command of Flavius Cerialis… It was not clear, however, exactly where the Cohors I Tungrorum was stationed. A. K. Bowman and J.D. Thomas do not rule out the possibility that the Cohors I Tungrorum and the Cohors VIIII Batavorum were partially stationed together at Vindolanda.”
Other sources confirm the long-term presence of these two Germanic units at Vindolanda. The excellent Website roman-britain.org has considerable information on these Germanic tribes and their connection with Vindolanda:
“Timber Fort 2 - Built hastily and with poor quality timber upon the site of Timber Fort 1 which was demolished in preparation, this new fort extended more to the west and covered an area of just over 5 acres (c.2ha); possibly garrisoned by Cohors IX Batavorum. …from the period AD 97-103, when the fort was occupied by IX Batavorum and its sister unit III Batavorum, both 'quingenary' units approximately 500 strong.
Cohors Primae Tungrorum - The First Cohort of Tungri
The original garrison of Vindolanda is not known, and the earliest identified unit at the site has only recently been revealed on one of the Vindolanda writing tablets. The garrison of the mid-second century was Cohors I Tungrorum, an infantry unit from the Tungri tribe who inhabited the north-western fringes of the Arduenna Silva in Gallia Belgica (the Ardennes Forest on the border between Belgium and Germany). This unit had been active in the campaigns of Agricola in Central Scotland, and saw action in the final battle at Mons Graupius which resulted in the near-total destruction of the Caledonian tribes. During this time the First Cohort of Tungrians was known to be a cohors quingenaria peditata, a five-hundred strong infantry unit, but by the mid-second century the complement had been increased by half again to a total strength of over 750 men (vide supra).
Cohors Primae Tungrorum [milliaria]
The First Cohort of Tungri, (one-thousand strong)
This was a regiment of tribesmen from the Tungri tribe of eastern Belgica who inhabited the western fringes of the Arduinna Silva, in the Brabant and Hainailt districts of Belgium south-east of Brussels. Their capital was Atuatuca, now Tongres or Tongeren near Maastricht in Belgium. They are mentioned on four military diplomata dating to the beginning of the second century and are first attested on stone at the Carrawburgh fort on Hadrian's Wall in the period AD122-138 also nearby at Chesterholm/Vindolanda on the Stanegate, and it appears likely that the unit was split between these two forts during Hadrianic times. They are next recorded on the Antonine Wall in the Central region of Scotland between AD139-161, seemingly again split between the forts at Cramond and Castlecary. They are finally recorded back on Hadrian's frontier at Housesteads on a building inscription dated to AD205-208, and were to remain there until the end of the fourth century as recorded in the Notitia Dignitatum.
Evidence for the Cohort in Britain
CIL XIII.3606; Ager Nerviorum - Diploma, dated c.AD98.
Burn 95; CIL XVI.48; military diploma dated January 19th AD103.
Burn 100; CIL XVI.65; military diploma dated July 17th AD122.
CIL VII.1195 privilegia militvm, dated September 16th AD124.
L'Année Épigraphique 1997.1779b diploma dated c.AD126.
Chesterholm (Vindolanda writing tablet; Hadrianic).
Carrawburgh (RIB 1563b AD122-138).
Castlecary (RIB 2155 AD139-161).
Cramond (RIB 2135 altar).
Housesteads (RIB 1578-1580, 1584-1586, 1591, 1598, all altars; 1618/1619 tombstones; 1631b AD205-208; Notitia Dignitatum).”
An important inscription occurs at Vindolanda, and this may be significant for the Mogont Vitire dedication found at Netherby:
DEO MOGVNTI ET GENIO LOCI LVPVL V S M
"For the god Moguns and the Guardian Spirit of This Place, Lupulus deservedly fulfils his vow." (RIB 1722d; altarstone; Britannia iv (1973), p.329, no.10)
The Romans portrayed the “Guardian Spirit” of a place IN SERPENT FORM. I have proposed that the Arthurian period northern hero Gwythyr, who fights an eternal May Day battle with Gwyn (from Celtic Vindo, ‘White’), may not be from the Latin name Victor, as is usually claimed. Instead, I chose to see in Gwythyr a late Welsh form of the god Vitires. As the battle between Gwythyr and Gwyn matched that of the battle of the Red and White Dragons/pigs as found in the story of “Lludd and Llevelys”, and the altars to Vitires/Veteres show a serpent and a boar (and perhaps a serpent and a bird; see Chesters 829/CH309/CSIR 280), I quite naturally identified Gwythyr/Vitires with the Red Dragon.
However, if Hviteres is the “White One”, and was associated with the Vindo- of Vindolanda as the Genius of the Place, then it is tempting to identify the White Serpent/Dragon with the the White Dragon/Genius of the Saxons found in Welsh tradition.
NOTE: Further research on the Batavians has brought to light their connection with a town called "Castra Vetera" on the Continent. The name of this fort suggests another possible origin of Veteris/Vitiris, who otherwise seems to have been associated with Vindolanda in Britain.
Civilis and the Batavians initiated the siege of Castra Vetera in September of 69 A.D. The siege was abandoned for a short period, and Civilis threatened to attack Mogontiacum. He then besieged Castra Vetera once more and the town surrendered to him in AD 70.
Some of the Batavians who ended up at Vindolanda may have brought with them the genius of Castra Vetera, whom they immediately identified with that of the British fort. Hviteres then appears at Netherby because the place’s British name was Gwenddolau or “White Dales”.