Sunday 7 December 2008

Songs from the Sons of Llyr


"I have been in the battle of Godeu, with Lleu and Gwydion,
they changed the form of the elementary trees and sedges"
As we have seen in Part VII - Lludd’s Dragons, the three elements of the independent Welsh tale Lludd & Lleuelys (Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys), echo the same features of the Irish tale of The Second Battle of Mag Tuired: sovereignty; force; fruitfulness. In this Irish tale Naudu Airgetlam, The King of the Tuatha De Danann, has lost kingship, the new King Bres tyrannises the people, the warriors have become powerless, and the fertility has been contravened by giving the harvest as tribute. In Lludd & Lleuelys, the three plagues have brought the same inflictions: The Coraniaid have effectively tyrannised the people with their magical powers of hearing; The May eve scream has reduced the strength of the warriors; food not eaten on the first night of the feast in the king’s court, a year’s provision, disappears. French scholar George Dumezil suggests the three plagues that menace human society are an archaic formulation, which he refers to as The Ancient Tripartite. [2]

According to John Koch the name Llefelys appears to be a compound, the first element being the same as Welsh Lleu, Old Irish Lugh, Celiberian and Gaulish Lugus.

Koch states: “The etymology of the second element is less apparent. Having recognised the fact that the common origin of the supernatural figures Old Irish Naudu, the Welsh Nudd and the Roman-British Nodons, the Irish mythology surrounding the figure Naudu confirms that Llefelys is to be connected with the Irish Lug in character as well as name.

...Elements of the Welsh story Lludd & Llefelys resonate with the features of the story of Naudu and Lug, the prinicipal of source being The Second Battle of Mag Tuired. Like Naudu, Lludd's kingdom is blighted by oppressors, including a failure of the food supply and fertility in both cases. Lug comes to aid Naudu as does Llefelys with Lludd to restore the kingdom.

Lleuelis the usual spelling in White Book and Red Book texts of the Cyfranc modernised as Llefelys. Ford writes this as Modern welsh Lleuelys, emphasing the connection with Lleu the central figure of the Math mab Mathonwy and counterpart of Lug.”

Patrick Ford therefore uses the name, in modern Welsh, Lleuelys, in place of Llefelys [4] to emphase the connection with Lleu the central figure of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, Math mab Mathonwy [5]. Some might query the form Lleuelys where most modern Welsh scholars give Llefelys. However, Lleuelis is the usual spelling in White Book of Rhydderch and Red Book of Hergest texts of the Cyfranc, modernised as Llefelys. The Red Book manuscript Column 705 gives Cyfranc Llud a Lleuelis. [6]

In both versions of the story, The Second Battle of Mag Tuired and Llud a Lleuelis the three elements are restored by the respective arrivals of Lug and Lleu; both cognate with the name Lugus.

Lleu Llaw Gyffes
The name Lleu appears in Welsh literature as Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the same figure from the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, Math, son of Mathonwy. In addition to the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi the name Lleu appears in four Triads, the Book of Taliesin and in the Stanza of the Graves from the Black Book of Carmarthen, the epithet usually always attached to the name is LLaw Gyffes.

There are two variants to this name in Welsh, Lleu/Llew, the former is the original as revealed by the rhyme scheme in at least two poems; one in the Mabinogi of Math in the first three stanza sung by Gwydion to Lleu while he is in the form of an eagle, the other from the Book of Taliesin. Although the spelling Llew is more common in Mabinogi texts, probably having arisen from the ambiguities of early welsh spelling and manuscript errors, this is sometimes translated as the “Lion with the Steady Hand” which is quite incorrect as the naming of Lleu Llaw Gyffes is revealed in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi.

The Mabinogion
Probably the most popular version, and certainly the first in English, of the Mabinogion was produced by Lady Charlotte Guest in the 19th Century. Lady Guest, an English woman, married John Josiah Guest, a Welshman born in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, and owner of the Dowlais Iron Company. During her time in Wales she studied literature and learned Welsh, going on to translate medieval songs and poems, and eventually the misnamed Mabinogion. Guest noted the word “mabynnogyon in one manuscript which she took for a plural and applied to the whole collection of twelve tales. The word "mabinogion" does not exist in Welsh, it therefore probably being a copyist error to be found only at the end of the First Branch, the Mabinogi of Pwyll.
The word Mabinogi only correctly applies to the first four tales, known as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Various editions of the Mabinogion generally follow Guest, but can sometimes omit The Story of Taliesin (Hanes Taliesin) making the collection of only eleven tales.

Lady Guest’s Mabinogion became the first translation of the material to be published, being printed in several volumes between 1838 and 1849, containing in addition to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi the so called Welsh Romances containing Arthurian material. The popularity of the tales continues today with modern versions continuing to be produced and although scholars may quibble over the translations of some words, content generally stays true to Guest’s work. [7]

The Three Romances:
Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain
Peredur, son of Efrawg

Gereint and Enid
(sometimes called Gereint son of Erbin)

The three romances bear some resemblance to Chrétien de Troyes 12th century tales, respectively Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, Perceval or the Story of the Grail, and Erec and Enide. There is some debate between scholars as to which came first, the Welsh Romances or Chrétien de Troyes tales. The Romances survive in the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest, both from the fourteenth century, but contain much Celtic material which is considered at least as old as Chrétien, if not older. Chrétien may have based his tales on Breton material which may offer some explanation to the similarity of the sources. Roger Sherman Loomis presents a formidable case for the Celtic roots of the Grail story. [8]

The Native Tales:
Culhwch ac Olwen
The Dream of Rhonabwy

The Dream of Mascen Wledig

Lludd and Llefelys

Hanes Taliesin

Lady Guest also included in her anthology these five native tales; Culhwch ac Olwen contains much early Arthurian material and echoes the raid on the otherworld as depicted in the early Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwfn. The court list in Culhwch ac Olwen is of particular interest as it features figures like Lludd Llaw Eraint and Gwynn ap Nudd which seem to be based on the mythological Children of Don, Welsh counterpart of the Irish Tuatha De Danann.

The Dream of Rhonabwy is one of the later tales included in the Mabinogion, composed in the second half of the 12th Century but has interested scholars because it preserves much older Arthurian traditions. The tale takes place in a vision that came to Rhonabwy during a dream. On the road, Rhonabwy meets one Iddawg, one of Arthur's messengers at the Battle of Camlann, who escorts Rhonabwy through the dreamscape, patiently answering all his questions. A colophon at the end of the tale states that no one can recite the work in full without a book, as the amount of detail is too great for the memory alone.

The tale The Dream of Macsen Wledig is a romanticized story about the Roman Commander Magnus Maximus, proclaimed Emperor by his army in Britain in AD 383, after recovering Britain from incursions by the Picts and Scots in AD 381. Maximus, in pursuit of his imperial ambitions, took his troops to Gaul and defeated the Emperor Gratian, but was executed by Theodosius five years later. Maximus is criticised by Gildas and the Historia Brittonum for took the bulk of the Roman British Garrison to the continent and left the country undefended at the mercy of foreign invaders. Although Hispanic by birth, Maximus became an important figure and appears in many medieval Welsh dynasties.

Hanes Taliesin, sometimes known as the Ystoria Taliesin, or Chwedl Taliesin is a later piece, not included in the Red or White Books, which although included by Lady Guest more recent translations tend to omit from the Mabinogion. It is a mixture of Welsh prose and poetry, about and supposedly by Taliesin, though none of these poems are found in the Llyfr Taliesin. The earliest text is found in Elis Gruffydd’s Chronicle of the Six Ages of the World compiled during the first half of the sixteenth century. There are over twenty manuscripts of Ystoria Taliesin many of which only contain the first part, The Tale of Gwion Bach, set in the days of the legendary King Arthur, dealing with a witch, a magical brew and shape shifting. Patrick Ford comments that the tales wonder and magic remind us of Culhwch and Olwen. The second part, The Tale of Taliesin, has few of those qualities, and although the two parts are chronologically consecutive, they are worlds apart. [9]

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi
It is important to differentiate between the Mabinogion, the collection of tales based on Guest’s anthology and the Four Branches of the Mabinogi (Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi) which contain only the following:

First Branch: Pwyll Prince of Dyfed
Second Branch: Branwen Daughter of Llyr
Third Branch: Manawydan son of Llyr
Fourth Branch: Math son of Mathonwy

The most mythological stories contained in the Mabinogion collection are the four interrelated tales, from a single storyteller, titled The Mabinogi in the manuscripts, or often "The Four Branches of the Mabinogi". The word Branch is the common translation of the word keinc and the title generally given to the four tales. A second meaning for keinc can be “strand or yarn (of a rope)” resulting in the possibility of intentionally interconnected episodes linked throughout a relationship of the subject matter. [10]
Although The Four Branches of the Mabinogi are dated c.1060-1120, it is generally thought that they preserve much older material, remnants from a complete cycle of tales centred on Pryderi, who appears in all four branches, though not always as a central character, is born in the First Branch and dies in the Fourth. The word “mabinogi” is usually translated as "tales for youth," or "tales of the hero", derived from "mabon" or "meibon", meaning a boy, young man or youth.

This mythological cycle is betrayed by the name of the key characters; Rhiannon has her roots in the goddess Rigantona, (Great Queen Goddess) and Pryderi is considered to have his roots in the British god Maponus (Mabon), with much material comparable to the ancient Irish sagas, although written in Early Christian society of twelfth-century Wales the Four Branches of the Mabinogi contains tales of figures from the British Celtic mythological cycle; The Children of Don and the Children of Llyr, pagan cultures from prehistoric Britain.

Therefore the term Mabinogi may also mean "tales of Mabon" derived from the name this god, Mabon ap Modron, (The Divine Son of the Divine Mother) who was stolen at three days old, and is named in the Triads as one of The Three Exalted Prisoners of the Island of Britain. It has been suggested that the Four Branches may have originally been an account of the birth, disappearance and restoration of Pryderi, which is another name for the British god Maponus, god of youth and rebirth, whose imprisonment and release plays a significant role in Culhwch and Olwen. [11]

There is further evidence of this lost mythological cycle; Pryderi also appears in the Welsh tale Preiddiau Annwfn (Spoils of Annwfn), in which Arthur attempts to steal a magic cauldron from Annwfn (The Otherworld). Pryderi is one of the seven survivors, along with Arthur and Taliesin, which holds similarities to the tale of Branwen Daughter of Llyr in the Second Branch.

The First Branch, sometimes called The Mabinogi of Pwyll is set in Dyfed, South West Wales, tells the story of Rhiannon the horse goddess, connected with birds and the Otherworld. Pwyll, endures a succession of magical trials before emerging as the 'Head of Annwfn'. He then becomes the consort of the Great Queen; she then gives birth to the hero Pryderi. Pryderi, whose departure and revival form the conclusion of thee First Branch, epitomise an important connection to the other Branches.

In The Second Branch, or Mabinogi of Branwen, the mythical Sons of Llyr appear as the leading dynasty among the tribes of Britain before the ascendancy of the Sons of Beli Mawr.
Bran, or Bendigeidfran, leads an ill-fated journey to Ireland to avenge his sister, Branwen. On the return from this expedition, carrying the living, talking head of Bran the seven survivors find that Caswallan the son of Beli, has seized control of the Island in their absence.

The Third Branch, The Mabinogi of Manawydan, the consequences from the events of the first two branches is recounted by Manawydan son of Llyr, Pryderi son of Pwyll, his mother Rhiannon and his wife Cigfa residing in a bare land devoid of human habitation, the traditional Wasteland myth. The restoration of the Enchantment of Dyfed comes when Manawydan, through knowledge and scheming, outwits the magical influence which brought about his downfall, and banishes its influence from Dyfed for ever.

The Fourth Branch, The Mabinogi of Math, features the story of Lleu who is forced to overcome the curse of his mother after he is conceived in dubious circumstances; she determines he shall not receive neither a name, a weapon, or a wife. With the assistance of his uncle, the magician Gwydion, son of Don, he succeeds in overcoming this triple curse. Gwydion and Math magically create a woman for Lleu, conjuring her out of wild flowers. She falls in love with Gronw Pebyr and betrays him; they attempt to kill Lleu, who turns into an eagle. Gwydion finds him in a tree top and restores him to health.

1. This poem, untitled but usually referred to as Song Before the Sons of Llyr ("Kerdd Veib am Llyr"), Book of Taliesin, XIV, Four Ancient Books of Wales by Skene, attributed to Taliesin, brings together several mythological themes, the Cauldron of Cerridwen, the Cauldron of Bran, the Cauldron of Annwn, with allusions to the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the battles between the Children of Don and the Children of Llyr: Pryderi, Manawyddan, Bran, and Gwydion. It also refers to Cad Goddeu, (the Battle of the Trees), and Caer Siddi, the mythical city from which Arthur and his retinue steal the Cauldron of Annwn in the Prieddu Annwn, (Spoils of Annfwn), "Save seven, none returned from Caer Siddi" - both poems also found in the Book of Taliesin. Taliesin also appears as one of the seven survivors, along with Manawyddan, Pryderi, from the Battle of Ireland in Branwen Daughter of Llyr, The Second Branch of the Mabinogi; “Now the seven men that escaped were Pryderi, Manawyddan, Gluneu Eil Taran, Taliesin, Ynawc, Grudyen the son of Muryel, and Heilyn the son of Gwynn Hen.”
2. George Dumezil discusses the tale and shows that the three plagues that menace human society are an archaic formulation in Mythe et Epopee I, 1968, pp.613-623, - referred to in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, pp. 111-112.
3. Celtic Culture, A Historical Encyclopedia By John T. Koch, ABC-CLIO, 2006, pp 1164 – 1166
4. The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, University of California Press, 2nd Revised 30th Anniversary Edition 2008, p.111.
5. John T. Koch, 2006, Ibid. pp 1164 – 1166.
6. “Col. 705. ILyma gyfranc llud a lleuelis” - The given text represents the entry for the Llyfr Coch Hergest in Cymraeg Canol (middle Cymric).as given in the Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on manuscripts in the Welsh language, vol. II part I, (London, 1902).
See >> Red Book of Hergest at Celtnet
7. For good, readable recent editions in modern English see: The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, University of California Press, 2nd Revised 30th Anniversary Edition 2008; The Mabinogion by Sioned Davies, Oxord University Press 2007; The Four Branches of the Mabinogi by Will Parker, Bardic press 2007; The Mabinogi by John K Bollard, Gomer Press 2006.
8. The Grail: From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol by Roger Sherman Loomis, Cardiff University Press, First Edition, 1963. One reviewer says “In terms of serious scholarship, there has been little that supersedes or countervenes this work from a major Authuriad scholar at the height of his powers.”
9. Patrick K Ford, Ibid, p.159.
10. The Mabinogion by Sioned Davies, Oxord University Press 2007, p.232.
11. “Hamp states that mabinogi "has nothing to do with 'youth' or 'boy, son'. It is a collective of an adjective denoting what pertains to a stem *mapono-; in [this] context its relevance to Maponos is immediately clear. The derivative *mapon-āk-ijīmeant 'the (collective) material pertaining to (those of ) Maponos'." Maponos 'the Divine Son', son of Matrona 'the Divine Mother'is represented in early Middle Welsh poetry and in the earliest Arthurian tale, How Culhwch Got Olwen, as Mabon son of Modron. Thus, The Mabinogi is so-called, Hamp concludes, because it deals with material derived from myths of the earlier Brythonic deities, who are also reflected in the names Rhiannon, 'the Divine Queen,' and Teyrnon, 'the Divine King.' And there are, of course, other characters of mythological origin in The Mabinogi. (The name Maponos/Mabon derives ultimately from the same root as that of mab; the -on indicates divinity in all these names.)” – “What is The Mabinogi? What is "The Mabinogion"? - John K Bollard.
See >> Mabinogi and Archaism, Celtica 23 by Eric P Hamp [PDF file]

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Saturday 29 November 2008

Lludd’s Dragons


The tale of the dragons of Dinas Emrys actually begins with the tale of Lludd a Llefelys, as one of the plagues affecting the Island of Britain

The Tale of Lludd and Llefelys
The Welsh tale of Lludd and Llefelys is preserved in a collection of stories contained in two manuscripts, the English titles of which are the White Book of Rhydderch (written ca. 1300–25) and the Red Book of Hergest (ca. 1375–1425). The stories are thought to be much older, some dating back at least to the latter part of the eleventh century.

The tale is alluded to in The Lesser Reconciliation of Lludd, from the Book of Taliesin:

Before the reconciliation of Lludd and Llevelys,
The possessor of the fair isle trembled
" [1]

The earliest origins of this story are obscure and there appears to be evidence that The Tale of Lludd and Llefelys is independent of Geoffrey’s influence and based on an earlier tradition that existed before Geoffrey wrote his Historia; although Lludd rebuilding the city of London (Caer Lud) is found in the Historia (possibly based on the same tradition as Henry Huntingon), his brother Llefelys is not found in Geoffrey's work.

The story goes that while Lludd was king of the Island of Britain; it became infected with three supernatural plagues, or oppressions.

The Three Plagues of Lludd’s Reign:

The first was a certain race that came, and was called the Coranians; [2] and so great was their knowledge, that there was no discourse upon the face of the Island, however low it might be spoken, but what, if the wind met it, it was known to them. And through this they could not be injured.

The second plague was a shriek which came on every May-eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. And this went through people's hearts, and so seared them, that the men lost their hue and their strength, and the women their children, and the young men and the maidens lost their senses, and all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters, were left barren.

The third plague was, that however much of provisions and food might be prepared in the king's courts, were there even so much as a year's provision of meat and drink, none of it could ever be found, except what was consumed in the first night. And two of these plagues, no one ever knew their cause, therefore was there better hope of being freed from the first than from the second and third. [3]

Lludd called upon his brother Llefelys, who was king of Northern France by marriage, for help in eradicating these three plagues. They met in the middle of the sea and spoke through a horn so as the Coraniaid could not hear them.

The first plague, the Coraniaid was finally eradicated insects bruised in water. Lludd had received the insects from his brother Llefelys in France who had told Lludd to keep some of them to breed with just in case a similar affliction might come to Britain in the future.

Llefelys said the second plague was due to a dragon in Lludd’s kingdom and another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it. To overcome this plague, Llefelys told Lludd he would need to measure the length and breadth of the Island to find the centre, there dig a pit and place a cauldron filled with the finest mead, covered over by a satin cloth. They would appear as dragons fighting in the air and then tire and fall in the form of pigs into the cauldron, sink in to the mead, drink it and then fall asleep. Lludd would then need to bury them in the strongest part of the island.

When Lludd measured the island, Oxford was found to be the exact centre of the island of Britain. He captured the dragons as Llefelys had said and then wrapped up in the satin covering the cauldron. While they slept took them to the securest place he had which was in Snowdon, at a place then called Dinas Ffaraon, after that the spot was called Dinas Emrys, and from then on the May-eve shriek ceased.

To eradicate the third plague Lludd was only able to stop the recurring theft by confronting the intruder. To avoid falling asleep he kept dipping his head in a vessel of cold water by his side. Upon confronting the magician, a fierce encounter ensued in which Lludd overcame the magician. Thereupon, Lludd granted him mercy and made him his loyal vassal.

The Dragons of Emrys
The tale of the Dragons interned at Dinas Emrys seems to originate from belief in talismanic burial, as seen for example in the story from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen Daughter of Llŷr which includes the story of the burial of Bran's head to protect the island. The burial of the two dragons keeps Britain safe from invasion, being one of the Three Fortunate Concealments, until they are unearthed by Vortigern, as one of the Three Unfortuate Disclosures.

The story is alluded to in the Triads:

37 R. Three Fortunate Concealments of the Island of Britain

The Head of Bran the Blessed, son of Llyr, which was concealed in the White Hill in London, with its face towards France. And as long as it was in the position in which it was put there, no Saxon Oppression would ever come to this Island; The second Fortunate Concealment: the Dragons in Dinas Emrys, which Lludd son of Beli concealed; And the third: the Bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed, in the Chief Ports of this Island. And as long as they remained in that concealment, no Saxon Oppression would ever come to this Island.

And they were the Three Unfortunate Disclosures when these were disclosed And Gwrtheyrn the Thin disclosed the bones of Gwerthefyr the Blessed for the love of a woman: that was Ronnwen the pagan woman; And it was he who disclosed the Dragons; And Arthur disclosed the Head of Bran the Blessed from the White Hill, because it did not seem right to him that this Island should be defended by the strength of anyone, but by his own. [4]

It may allude to an even early mythological element of Britain’s pagan past, as we have seen previously Lludd’s daughter Creiddylad; Gwythyr the son of Greidawl and Gwynn the son of Nudd fight for her every first of May until doomsday. May-eve, Beltane is also probably named after the god Beli, father of Lludd. It is on Beltane that the Milesians came to Ireland, and so it was on Beltane that the Partholonians died.

In addition to Beltane, the Celtic fire festival heralding the onset of summer, May-eve is of course also Walpurgis Night, a traditional pagan festival, on April 30th. Walpurgisnacht is considered the "Enclosure of the Fallen" from Norse tradition and commemorates the time when Odin died. The night is said to be a time when the boundary between this world and the other world can be breached and spirits were said to walk among the living.

Christianised as St. Walpurga's day and set to May 1st, Saint Walpurga herself was a niece of Saint Boniface and, according to legend, a daughter of the Saxon prince St. Richard. It would seem that May-eve is traditionally a day when rulership is challenged and plagues appear.

Although Geoffrey of Monouth and the tale of Lludd and Llefelys, disagree on the fourth brother Llefelys, they concur in naming a third brother Nynyaw in Welsh (= Nennius in Latin), who plays no further part in the story.

The tale of the dragons concealed at Dinas Emrys is very significant in the early mythology of Britain. These are, no doubt, the same dragons which appear in 9th Century story of Ambrosius and Vortigern, attributed to a cleric named Nennius, c.800 CE, in the Historia Brittonum, from the Harlian 3859 manuscript.

The Tale of Lludd and Llefelys, albeit it in a bridged form, was included in later Welsh redactions of Geoffrey’s Historia, probably to account for how the dragons became buried in Dinas Emrys. Geoffrey names the boy Emrys as Merlin and hence the confusion of the two Merlins commences – but that’s another story!

Ambrosius becomes Emrys in Welsh, Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert in Snowdonia traditionally being his stronghold; he was referred to by Gildas as the Last of the Romans; Nennius hints to the possibility of civil war when he alludes to the Battle of Wallop between Ambrosius and Vortigern. From Nennius the concept of the red dragon as representing the Britons (this still represented on the flag of Wales today) in their struggle against the Anglo-Saxons is generally accepted. However, the white dragon may not be referring to Germanic invaders at all but the dragons could be representations of the two factions of Ambrosius and Vortigern.

According to the story Vortigern was advised by his wise men to retire to the remote boundaries of his kingdom and build a citadel, but three times the building collapsed, he was advised to: “find a child born without a father, put him to death, and sprinkle with his blood the ground on which the citadel is to be build,”

Hence, they found the boy Emrys who was not born of a mortal father and he was brought before Vortigern:

"there is," said he, "a pool;" they examined, and found it so: continuing his questions, "What is in the vases?" they were silent: "there is a tent in them," said the boy; "separate them, and you shall find it so;" this being done by the king's command, there was found in them a folded tent. The boy, going on with his questions, asked the wise men what was in it? But they not knowing what to reply, "There are," said he, "two serpents, one white and the other red; unfold the tent;" they obeyed, and two sleeping serpents were discovered; "consider attentively," said the boy, "what they are doing." The serpents began to struggle with each other; and the white one, raising himself up, threw down the other into the middle of the tent, and sometimes drove him to the edge of it; and this was repeated thrice. At length the red one, apparently the weaker of the two, recovering his strength, expelled the white one from the tent; and the latter being pursued through the pool by the red one, disappeared. Then the boy, asking the wise men what was signified by third wonderful omen, and they expressing their ignorance, he said to the king, "I will now unfold to you the meaning of this mystery. The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom: the two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, our people shall rise and drive away the Saxon race from beyond the sea, whence they originally came; but do you depart from this place, where you are not permitted to erect a citadel” [5]

The Ancient Tripartite
French scholar George Dumezil theorises that the meaning of the story is based on a tripartite ideology from Indo-European society; sovereignty, force and fruitfulness. [6]
The three elements of the Welsh story Lludd & Lleuelys echo the features of the story of Naudu and Lug, the primary source being The Second Battle of Mag Tuired:

Nuada, The King of the Tuatha De Danann has lost his arm in battle against the champion of the Fir Bolg. He is given a prosthetic silver arm and is from then on known as Nuada Airgetlam (silver hand-arm). The new King of the Tuatha De Danann, Bres, is part Formonian and tyrannises his people, their leading warriors are reduced to demeaning chores and the poets are not wanted at the King’s court. The reign of Bres is characterised by the three functions; the sovereign has become a tyrant, the leading warriors have lost their might, and fertility is contravened by yielding crops as tribute. Enter Lugh who leads the Tuatha De Danann to victory against the Formonians.

In Lludd and Lleuelys the realm of the King has been weakened in each of the three elements:

The Coraniaid have effectively tyrannised the people with their magical powers of hearing, The May eve scream has reduced the strength of the warriors, The food not eaten on the first night of the feast in the king’s court, a year’s provision, disappears.

As we have seen Lludd appears to be synonymous with Lludd Lawereint, who is synonymous with Nuada Airgetlam, therefore both versions of the tale, Welsh Lludd and Lleuelys and the Irish Second Battle of Mag Tuired relate to a Celtic myth in which the god Nodons has lost his arm in battle and is besieged by three plagues. The three elements and consequently the kingdom are restored by the god Lugus (Irish = Lug, Welsh =Lleu). [7]


1 Skene in his Notes to the Four Ancient Books of Wales states that this is a curious poem giving an account of an early colonisation of Britain and suggests that this poem refers not to the Coraniaid of Cryfranc of Lludd and Llefelys, but the Romans. However, the word for Romans would be Caesarians, which is quite different and they are not listed in Triad 36 Three Oppressions that came to this island.
2 Coraniaid, variously spelt, probably related to the Welsh word corach translated as ‘dwarf’ and it is generally accepted that they are fairy people, the Tylwyth Teg, invading the island, as do the fairy races of Ireland, although the Triad says they came from Arabia
3 Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys, Translated by Lady Charlotte Guest
4 Rachel Bromwich, (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain.
5 Historia Brittonum, Attributed to Nennius, ca. 800 CE, Harlian 3859, Translation from Six Old English Chronicles by: J.A. Giles.
6 George Dumezil discusses the tale and shows that the three plagues that menace human society are an archaic formulation in Mythe et Epopee I, 1968, pp.613-623, - referred to in The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales by Patrick K Ford, pp. 111-112.
7 Celtic Culture, A Historical Encyclopedia By John T. Koch, 2006, pp 1164 – 1166.
Koch states that the name Llefelys appears to be a compound, the first element is the same as seen in the simplex name of the important pan-Celtic supernatural figure, Welsh Lleu, Old Irish Lugh, Celtiberian and Gaulish Lugus. Lleuelis the usual spelling in White Book and Red Book texts of the Cyfranc modernised as Llefelys. Patrick Ford writes this as modern Welsh Lleuelys, emphasing the connection with Lleu the central figure of the Math mab Mathonwy and counterpart of Lug.

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Sunday 23 November 2008

Lludd's City


Legend has it that there was once a temple to Lludd at the site of St Paul's Cathedral, London, near Ludgate, one of the City's seven ancient gates.
Lludd Llaw Eraint
"Lludd of the Silver Hand", son of Beli Mawr, is a legendary hero from Welsh mythology. As Nudd Llaw Eraint (the earlier form of his name, cognate of the Irish Nuada Airgetlám, derived from the pre-Roman British god Nodens) he is the father of Gwynn ap Nudd, lord of the Otherworld and leader of the Wild Hunt.

In the early Welsh Genealogies most early British Kings claim descent from Beli Mawr (the Great). Beli was said to be have been the husband of Anna (Anu), which Christianised legend equates with the daughter of St. Joseph of Arimathea.

Beli Mawr has been identified with the Celtic God, Belinos, his name means 'shining' or 'bright’, who has more surviving inscriptions than any other Celtic God, across northern Italy and southern Gaul and traces of a cult in Britain; the Celtic festival Beltane may be named after him. Belinos has been equated with Apollo. Beli, in addition to being father to Lludd, was also father of Avallach, whose abode was the otherworldly island which was the precursor of Avalon. He is therefore King of the Otherworld although in some later literature, he is replaced by his nephew Gwyn ap Nudd as King of Avalon.

In the Triads of Britain, Afallach was also the father to nine maidens, goddesses who tended the cauldron, the chief treasure of Annwfn. The early Arthurian poem, the Spoils of Annwfn (Preiddeu Annwfn) portrays a raid on the otherworld by Arthur and his companions for the sacred cauldron of the chief of Annwfn. This is similar to one of the tasks set in Culwch and Olwen in which Arthur must attain the cauldron of the giant Diwrnach on a raid to an otherworld island.

The Book of Taliesin poem The Lesser Prophesy of Britain, has the same first four lines as The Great Prophesy of Britain (Armes Prydein Vawr ) also found in the Book of Taliesin, depicts the Britons repelling the Saxon attacks. Here, they are led by the seven sons of Beli, who is seen as a historical king:

The seven sons of Beli arose. Caswallawn, and Lludd, and Cestuddyn, Diwed, Plo, Coil, Iago from the land of Prydyn.

Skene in The Four Ancient Books of Wales notes that these do not all appear to be sons of the same Beli. In Welsh tradition from the Children of Don, Beli Mawr, consort of Don, have seven sons who are all euhemerised gods:

Gwydion, Afallach, Caswallawn, Llefelys, Nudd/Lludd, Amaethon, and Gofannon and two daughters Penarddun, Arianrhod.
(Nynniaw appears to be a later addition in the Tale of Lludd and Llefelys)

(click for larger view)

The Lesser Prophesy of Britain continues,

In the alliance of the sovereign’s servants, Llyminawg will appear Who will be an ambitious man, To subdue Mona, And to ruin Gwynedd, From its extremity to its centre.

Lleminawg is a character who also appears in another poem from the Book of Taliesin "The Spoils of Annwn," where he has a flaming sword, plunged into the cauldron of Annwfn. He also accompanies Arthur in "Culhwch and Olwen" portraying further similarities between the two works as noted above. [1]

Is it not the cauldron of the Chief of Annwn which is social? With a ridge round its edge of pearls, It will not boil the food of a coward nor of one excommunicated. A sword bright flashing to him will be brought, And left in the hand of Llyminawg.
– [The Spoils of Annwn]

Lludd Llaw Eraint appears only in Culwch and Olwen, therefore his absence from Welsh literature indicates he is probably not the sole source of Geoffrey of Monmouth's King Lud from his History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey using his name to incorrectly explain the naming of London, as he did with Brutus and the naming of Britain. The tale of Lud rebuilding London and being named after him as Caerlud appears only in Geoffrey’s work and subsequently the Bruts that followed it.
Geoffrey, however, my have been following an oral tradition as Henry of Huntingdon, writing prior to Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain, tells us in his Historia Anglorum that the leader of the British army against the Romans was 'Belinus, the brother of King Cassibelaun, and the son of Lud, a very brave king who had gained possession of many islands of the sea by the success of his arms'. [2]
Geoffrey had already used Belinus and Brennius as brothers fighting a Roman campaign in the 4th century BC, so he used the name Heli as the king who ruled Britain and had three sons, Lludd, Caswallawn and Nyniaw. When Heli died Lludd ruled prosperously, re-building London and calling it Caer Lludd. Lud no doubt was a humanised deity, ultimately derived from Nodens; According to legend, there was once a temple to Lludd at the site of St Paul's Cathedral, London, near Ludgate, one of London's seven ancient gates, which is allegedly named after him but the derivation of the name is uncertain. Upon the death of Lud, the younger brother Caswallawn (Cassibellaunus) becomes king. Lud’s sons Androgeus and Tenvantius are not yet of age so are made Duke of Trinovantum (London), and Duke of Cornwall respectively.

Tenvantius is known historically as Tasciovanus and reigned for the last two decades BC over the Catuvellauni, North of the Thames. Tasciovanus is known to us only from his coins from that period not from literature, and yet his name turns up in a corrupted from centuries later. [3] This has led some to argue as evidence of a lost source for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work but more likely confirms an oral tradition which became confused through the course of time.
However, Caswallawn we know as an historical character that did actually fight against the Romans. Cassivellaunus was a historical British chieftain who led the defence against Julius Caesar's second expedition to Britain in 54 BC. He appears in Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, although he does not name the tribe, he states that Cassivellaunus’ territory is north of the River Thames, which correlates with the area later inhabited by the Catuvellauni.

Cassivellaunus must have been a powerful ruler in his time, according to Caesar he had been at constant war with other British tribes, overthrowing the king of the most powerful tribe in Britain at the time; the Trinovantes. Despite Cassivellaunus's guerrilla tactics, relying on knowledge of the local terrain within his territory and the speed of his chariots, Caesar still managed to advance to the Thames. The only fordable point was defended and fortified with sharp stakes, but the Romans managed to cross. Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, c.731 mentions the spikes in the Thames; apparently they were still visible in his time, and were encased in lead.

Cassivellaunus appears as Caswallawn son of Beli Mawr, in later Welsh literature; the Triads of Britain, he appears in the second and third Branches of the Mabinogi, and Welsh versions of Geoffrey's Historia (Bruts). He is referenced frequently in the Triads; usually referring to a tradition about Caswallawn not drawn from either Roman nor existing medieval sources. His horse, Meinlas (Slender Gray) is mentioned in the Triads as one of the Three Bestowed Horses of the Island of Britain. The Triads call the decision to allow the Romans to land in Britain in exchange for Meinlas one of the Three Unfortunate Counsels of the Island of Britain. The Triads also state that Caswallawn left Britain with 21,000 men in pursuit of Caesar and never returned. [4]

There is even less of Lud in Welsh Literature, but like Caswallawn his tales do appear in the Mabinogion and the Triads of the Island of Britain. In Triad 36, Lud and Caswallawn seem to become confused:

36. Three Oppressions that came to this island and not one of them went back [5]

One of them was the people of the Cor(y)aniaid who came here in the in the time of Caswallawn, (=Lludd?) son of Beli: and not one of them went back. And they came from Arabia. The second oppression: The Gwyddyl Ffichti. And not one of them went back. The third oppression: The Saxons, with Horsa and Hengist as their leaders.

It is the general consensus that Lludd should replace his brother Caswallawn in this Triad, all other manuscripts concur in line with the independent Welsh tale Lludd a Llefelys. However, this possibility cannot be ruled out, Caswallawn appears in the previous Triad 35. [6] He also appears in other Triads with a character called Lleu in one Triad as one of the Three Golden Shoemakers of the Island of Britain.

The Mabinogion anthology compiled by Lady Charlotte Gueste in the 19th century includes the independent Welsh tale of Lludd and Llefelys which does not appear in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia but is subsequently inserted in the thirteenth century Welsh version, Brut y Brenhinedd.


1 R. S. Loomis theorized that he is a form of Lugh Lamhfada, and influenced the figure of Lancelot.
2 Rachel Bromwich, (2006). Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain.
3 Geoffrey Ashe, Mythology of the British Isles, p 133.
4 In The Triads of the Island of Britain (2006) Rachel Bromwich suggests the fragmentary allusions to Caswallawn in the Triads may relate to a lost narrative, this may have been a Welsh romance similar to the independent tales included in the Mabinogion, detailing the king's adventures, which would have been largely free of influence by the classical accounts.
5 "Oppression" is translated from the word “gormes”, which may be "oppression" but implies invasion/conquering by an alien race.
6 Rachel Bromwich, ibid. In the notes to Triad 36, Rachel Bromwich expresses caution in following all other manuscripts that agree in restoring Lludd mab Beli, in place of Caswallawn, to conform with the tale of Lludd a Llefelys, as she states we have no assurance that that an earlier version of the story of the coming of this gormes (alien race) was not associated with Caswallawn rather than his brother. It may be significant that Caswallawn also appears in the preceding Triad 35. As Cassivellaunus of history he is also mentioned in Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico v.11, where he is said to be the commander of the British resistance against the invading Romans.
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Saturday 22 November 2008

The Grail Tapestries

The Quest for the Holy Grail

In the early 1890’s Sir Edward Burn-Jones designed a series of tapestries illustrating the Quest for the Holy Grail. These were produced in collaboration with William Morris and some of them are now in he care of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

For conservation reasons the tapestries are only exhibited occasionally but are on show as from today, 22nd November 2008, until February 2009.

This sequence of tapestries was originally designed for William Knox D'Arcy, for the dining room of his house, Stanmore Hall, Middlesex. It was the most extensive decoration scheme that the firm of Morris & Co completed. A set of ten were designed by Edward Burne-Jones, who produced the figurative designs and based the costumes loosely on those of the twelfth century, John Henry Dearle, who designed decorative detail, and William Morris, who designed the heraldry. Several further versions were woven later, although the entire series was only repeated once, for D'Arcy's business partner, George McCulloch, in 1898-99. Birmingham's version of 'The Summons' is from the series produced for George McCulloch.

The subject matter is based on the 15th century Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D'Arthur. It tells the story of the spiritual quest by King Arthur's knights of the round table for the Holy Grail, the vessel from which Jesus and the disciples drank at the Last Supper.

Panel 1 - Knights of the Round Table
Summoned to the Quest by the Strange Damsel

Here the first scene of the story shows the damsel arriving at court and summoning the knights to the quest. King Arthur holds a gold staff and wears a crown. Sir Lancelot, also wearing a crown, is seated on the left. The other knights are Sir Bors, Sir Kay, Sir Lamorah, Sir Gawaine, Sir Palomedes, Sir Perceval, and Sir Hector de Marys. Sir Galahad, who is Sir Lancelot’s son, and the only knight worthy of attaining the Holy Grail, is yet to arrive. He is represented by the empty chair, draped with a cloth bearing a Latin inscription and known as the ‘Siege Perilous’.

Panel 2 - The Arming and Departure of the Knights
The second scene depicts the virgin ladies of King Arthur's Court assisting the knights in preparation for their quest. On the far left, Queen Guinevere hands Sir Lancelot his shield, in an allusion to their adulterous relationship, the cause of Sir Lancelot's impending failure. Sir Gawaine, who will also fail in the quest, appears mounted on the right of the picture, identified by his shield, which bears a double-headed eagle.

Panel 3 - The Failure of Sir Gawaine;
Sir Gawaine and Sir Uwaine at the Ruined Chapel

Here the third scene depicts two knights who failed in their quest because they had previously led sinful lives. The story told how after many days of riding they stopped to rest and pray at a deserted chapel, but were told that they could not enter. Sir Uwaine is shown on the left, and Sir Gawaine is nearest the angel, who is barring the entrance to the chapel. A brilliant light shines from within, suggesting the presence of the Holy Grail.

Panel 4 - The Failure of Sir Lancelot
to Enter the Chapel of the Holy Grail

The fourth scene depicts Lancelot's failure to attain the Holy Grail. In Le Morte d'Arthur, Lancelot is unworthy of the Holy Grail, for according to Christain tradition he has allowed human perfection in the form of Guenevere to supplant the image of God. Burne-Jones departs from Malory's text and Lancelot is shown sleeping outside a chapel wherein the presence of the Grail is again suggested by the emission of the brilliant light through the door to which entry is forbidden by the presence of an angelic figure. This tapestry is not in Birmingham's collection.

Panel 5 - The Ship
This design links the figurative scenes together. The story tells how the knights travelled by ship for part of their journey to Sarras, where the Holy Grail was to be discovered.
Ships were often used in medieval stories as important narrative devices, to transport characters from one scene or world to another. Burne-Jones drew studies for this design using scale models.

Panel 6 - The Attainment; The Vision of the Holy Grail
to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival

The final scene shows the three successful knights. The relative purity of each knight's life is represented by their distance from the Holy Grail, which sits on the altar inside the chapel. Sir Galahad kneels in the doorway surrounded by white lilies, symbolising his purity. On the left are Sir Bors and Sir Perceval.
Three standing angels hold symbols of Christ's passion, including the bleeding lance of Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced his side on the cross. Above the Holy Grail is a Pentecostal wind, symbolising the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Verdure with Deer and Shields
A verdure is a type of tapestry that represents plants or wooded landscapes, sometimes with birds or animals. They were produced in Northern Europe from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. Verdure tapestries were originally designed to hang beneath each of the first four narrative scenes in the dining room at Stanmore Hall. Each had an inscription, which described the subject above it. The design for this Verdure was adapted by J H Dearle in 1900, from Burne-Jones's design for the original one which hung below The Summons.

Chamberlain Square
B3 3DH

Return of the King

The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon – Edward Burne-Jones

“Some men yet say that King Arthur is not dead,
......and men say that he will come again”

Edward Burne-Jones last and greatest work The Sleep of Arthur in Avalon has come home and returns to Britain for exhibition at the Tate Britain, London for a limited period only, from April 2008 to February 2009. Burne-Jones spent 17 years on the canvas and he was still painting it on the day before his death in June 1898.

Following the artist's death the painting with its magnificent frame with Latin inscription passed to a neighbour of Burne-Jones's whose descendents, John and Penryn Monck, sold the work at Christie's on 26 April 1963. Even at a time when Victorian art was unfashionable, the sale was considered a significant loss to Britain.

Tragically, Burne-Jones last work was allowed to leave Britain in 1963 after being sold at auction when the Tate had the opportunity to buy it for £1,000. It was purchased for the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico by the island's governor and founder of the museum, Don Luis Ferré, in 1963.

This enormous painting, measuring 21ft by 10ft, is being loaned to Tate Britain with Frederic Leighton's masterpiece Flaming June (1895) from the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, while its galleries undergo a major renovation and expansion programme during 2008.

The subject of the painting is taken from the fifteenth century work Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 21, Chapters 5 and 6. Mortally wounded in the Battle of Camlann, Arthur is taken way to the isle of Avalon and tended by Morgan and her sisters, where he would enter a dream like sleep until summoned again.

Burne-Jones painting shows the King laid out in a cloister, capped by a canopy embossed with panels showing the story of the Holy Grail, three queens keeping vigil; Morgan le Fay in white; the queens of Northgallis and the Wastelands by his feet. In the foreground, playing instruments, are Nimue (The Lady of the Lake), the queens of Sothian Orkney, Eastland and the Outer Isles. Amazons hold the kings’ armour, while Watchers look out into the distance ready to raise the alarm should the King awake.

If you appreciate fine Arthurian art see it now while you can - it returns for a limited period only, you will not be disappointed.

Flaming June

Also on loan from the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico, Flaming June, was last shown in the UK in 1996 and has become an iconic work in Puerto Rico. The picture was one of the artist's final works and shows a woman in a state of total relaxation, with brilliant orange drapery stretched across her body, as she sleeps in the heat of the Mediterranean sun.

The theme of sleep and its associations with death and unconsciousness was important to both Leighton and Burne-Jones, and has additional resonance in these two works that were painted towards the end of the artists' lives.

Tate Britain

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Friday 31 October 2008

Lludd's Silver Hand


Lot has been identified as Lludd; his name survives in Welsh literature as Nudd, derived from the Brythonic form Nodens, known from Irish Mythology as Nuada, who carried the epithet Airgetlám ("Silver Arm")

Stone Lud
In the parish of Bower in Caithness, in the Highland region of Scotland, about four miles south of Castletown (Grid Ref: ND222617) is a standing stone known as The Stone Lud.

It is claimed that this stone marks of the grave of Ljot, (or Loitus) the 10th century earl of Caithness and Norse Orkney, who died in battle here. The name of Ljot is clearly very close to that of Lot or Loth, the mythic king of Lothian of Arthurian legend who according to Geoffrey of Monmouth was also King of Orkney.

This standing stone is about 3 metres high, significantly taller than most Norse 10th century stones and is more likely to be a much older megalith that a local legend has attached to it. The Stone Lud is similar in size to the stones of the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, and is one of a pair, its partner having now fallen lies some 30 metres away. It said that when erect the two stones would have made an alignment with the summer solstice sunset. [1]

Lot(h), Gawain’s father according to Geoffrey of Momouth, has been identified as Llud(d) by John Rhys, [2] and endorsed by Roger Sherman Loomis that great protagonist of the Celtic origins of the Arthurian tradition. [3] The precursor of Lud being Lodens, hence we have the ruler of Lodonesia or the Lothians, from which, come Lothus and Loth or Lot of the Arthurian Romance. [4]

This name transmutation is further attested by Charles Squire in Celtic Myths and Legends in which he identifies Lot as a late incarnation of a British god who is remembered in medieval Welsh legend as Lludd Llaw Eraint (Lludd Silver Hand).

Lludd Llaw Eraint appears only in the Arthurian tale Culwch and Olwen as the father of Creiddylad, who was said “to be most splendid maiden in the three Islands of the mighty, and in the three Islands adjacent, and for her Gwythyr the son of Greidawl and Gwynn the son of Nudd fight every first of May until doomsday”.

Nuada Airgetlám
Lludd Silver Hand of Welsh tradition is cognate with Nuada Airgetlám from Irish mythology, who carries the same epithet (Airgetlám = "Silver Hand/Arm"). Nuada Airgetlám was the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann (Children of the Goddess Danu). He is the son of Danu, the god of healing, writing, poetry, sorcery, magic, the Sun, childbirth, beauty, youth, ocean, dogs, weapons, and warfare. Nuada had an invincible sword, Claíomh Solais (Sword of Light), known as one of the The Four Treasures of Ireland.

"From Findias was brought the Sword of Nuada;
no man would escape from it when it was drawn from its scabbard.
There was no resisting it." [5]

In the First Battle at Mag Tuired, Nuada lost his arm in combat with the Fir Bolg champion Sreng. Later his arm was replaced by a prosthetic limb made from silver by his brother, the physician Dian Cecht. After he had lost his hand in battle, he had to abdicate his throne as king to be replaced by Bres, who became a tyrant king. The Tuatha de Danann eventually exiled Bres and Nuada resumed his position as king. Balor, of the evil eye, later killed Nuada.

Nuada Airgetlám is cognate with the Gaulish and British god Nodens. His Welsh equivalent is Nudd or Lludd Llaw Eraint. John Rhys states that owing to Welsh alliteration Nodens has become the two names Nud and Lud. According to Rhys his name survives in Welsh literature as Nud, derived from the Brythonic form Nodens, known from Irish Mythology as Nuada, who carried the epithet Airgetlám ("Silver Hand/Arm").

There is evidence of a God of the British Celts being worshipped at Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, England, where a 4th Century Roman-British temple dedicated to Nodens has been found. As Nodens was a river-god in Gloucestershire; possibly due to this association with the Severn it would seem, Lud, has also been identified as a river god in Celtic mythology, although there appears little other information on him in this role.

Nodens was the Celtic God of Healing, and the son of Belenos, (Beli) the Sun God, and Anu, his wife. He had a large shrine at Lydney (Lludd's Island) in Gloucestershire, where the devoted made offerings of small bronze representations of their diseased limbs. He was sometimes identified with Mars the protector or the regenerative Silvanus and his companion and symbol was the dog: a deerhound whose lick could cure the afflicted. The story of Nuada loosing his arm in battle with the Fir Bolg champion Sreng explains his connection with amputees.

Lydney Park is part of a hill fort covering some 4.5 acres across the tip of a promontory overlooking the Severn. The Temple complex of Nodens was added in the 4th century to the southern half of the fort site, an inscription reads:

"To the God Nodens, Silvianus has lost a ring: he hereby gives half of it (i.e. half of its value to Nodens Among those who are called Senicianius, not allow health until he brings it to the temple of Nodens." [6]

Other inscriptions from Lydney Park appear to equate Nodens with Mercury and Mars.
The Northern tradition in Britain is supported by further inscriptions; at Cockersand Moss in Lancashire a silver statuette was found in 1718 with the following inscription on the base:

”To the god Mars Nodontis, the College of Lictors
[and] Lucianus Aprilis the traveller, in fulfilment of a vow.”

Nodens was probably widely known across Northern Europe, for example at Mainz in Germany an inscription was found equating the god Noadatus with Mars.

In 1929 J.R.R.Tolkien worked on archaeological dig at Lydney Park, on the site of the old Roman temple, known locally as Dwarf's Hill. Built upon an earlier Iron Age settlement, the hill was riddled with tunnels and open cast iron mines. One 50 ft long shaft of the iron mines can be seen today, running under the fort.At this time Tolkien was working on the Hobbit. The influences of his research at Lydney on his Lord of the Ring tales is evident in his chapter which he wrote for inclusion in Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s book about the Roman excavations here. The site has yielded over 8,000 coins, carved statues, mosaics, and bronze reliefs, some of these can be seen in the museum at Lydney Park.

Local lore states that within 20 years of the Romans leaving, the local people had forgotten that Lydney had been a Roman settlement and thought the crumbling ruins were the homes of fairy folk. So strong were the superstitions surrounding Lydney that the local people kept away from the hill for a thousands years.

As part of the surrender terms in their loss against the Milesians, the Tuatha Dé Danann agreed to retreat and dwell underground in the sídhe. Later English texts refer to the sidhe as hollow mounds, the abode of the fairy folk but in older Gaelic texts the sidhe are the palaces or residences of supernatural, otherworldly beings, the Land of Eternal Youth (Tír na nÓg) which was connected with the mortal world by these hollow mounds or passage tombs, like portals to another dimension.

Gwynn ap Nudd
Celtic legend says that Glastonbury Tor is a hollow mound (Sidhe), and entrance to the otherworld as well as being the home of Gwyn ap Nudd, King of Faerie, Lord of Annwn. This connection is affirmed in the Life of St. Collen, a 7th century Welsh saint that retired to a hermitage at the foot of the Tor. The Wild Hunt rides out of the Tor and rides down Arthur’s causeway to round up souls of the dead. Gwynn appears in The Triads as one of the three distinguished astronomers of the Island of Britain, who by their knowledge of the nature and qualities of the stars could predict whatever was wished to be known to the end of the world.

Nodens, is sometimes referred to as the Celtic "God of the Abyss.” This can be no coincidence that Gwynn son of Nudd (son of Nodens) is Lord of the Otherworld (Annwn) often called the Abyss, king of the Tylwyth Teg (the Welsh Fairy Folk) and as psychopomp, leader of the wild hunt with his pack of supernatural white hounds, Cŵn Annwn, he escorts the souls of the dead. His name Gwynn meaning white, ghostly or otherworldly.

Gwynn ap Nudd also appears in the early Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen along with Lludd Llaw Ereint. Culwch must enlist the support of Gwynn in the hunt for the great boar Twrch Trwyth in and as stated above he abducted the maiden called Creiddylad after she eloped with Gwythr ap Greidawl, Gwyn's long-time rival. Gwyn and Gwythr's fight, which began on May Day, possibly represents the contest between summer and winter.

In Northern Britain we find a further inscription to Nodens, linking hin to the God Neptune, from Vindolanda on Hadrians Wall:

To the god Neptune Nodons"

Nudd Hael
There is possibly another inscription to Nodens (Nudd) in the north of Britain, an early 6th century monument discovered in Yarrow, north of the Ettricks, at Warriors Rest, Selkirkshire is inscribed:

"This is the everlasting memorial: In this place lie the most famous princes, Nudus and Domnogenus; in this tomb lie the two sons of Liberalis [the Generous One]."

The Yarrow Stone, also known as the Liberalis Stone, marks the grave of two British Christian chieftains. The inscription on the stone is incomplete and there is debate as to its correct translation; some say it is to the sons of Nudd Hael, others to Nudd and his brother. The stone was turned up the plough at the beginning of the 19th century when this ground, then a moor known as Annan Street, was first brought under cultivation. It was found lying just under the surface with the remains of human bones underneath it. At this time there were about twenty burial cairns on the moor. The Liberalis Stone was removed for examination, then returned to Annan Street and was erected at the place of its original discovery. The east face of the stone bears the Latin inscription. The stone is now surrounded by a wooden fence.

Nudd the Generous (Liberalis?), son of Senyllt, appears in the Triads as one the Three Generous Men of the Island of Britain.
Although seemingly a historical character from Northern Britain, Nudd Hael does not appear to be the basis for Gawain’s father, as there does not appear to be a connection to Lludd Silver Hand, Nuada Airgetlám, or Nodens. But we do find a mythological King Lud in early tradition.

King Lud
Lludd Law Eraint is probably the source of king Lud from Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. In the Brut y Brenhinedd, the Welsh version of Geoffrey's Historia, he is called Lludd son of Beli. Geoffrey names him as Lud son of Heli, they are clearly one and the same. Lud was a separate figure in Welsh tradition and is usually treated as such. The legendary British king Lud may therefore ultimately be derived from Nodens.

Yet again we find our man Geoffrey at play again, that great corruptor of British History, who states that the origin of London's place name is from Lud, legendary King of Britain in the first century BC. He was the eldest son of Geoffrey's King Heli (identified with Beli Mawr). Lud's reign is notable for the building of cities and the refortification of Trinovantum (London).

The story goes that Lud became King and rebuilt the city that King Brutus had founded and had named New Troy. He renamed it Caerlud, (city of Lud). This later became corrupted to Caerlundein, which the Romans apparently took up as Londinium, and became modern day London. Personally I find the sound of the name London more similar to Lugdunum, modern day Lyon in France.
Lud was buried in an entrance to the city that still bears his name, Ludgate, his father Beli Mawr is supposedly buried at Billingsgate, just as Bran is at Tower of London. King Lud’s name persists in present day Ludgate Circus and Ludgate Hill, on which St. Paul's Cathedral stands, Ludgate being a major gateway into the City of London. Crumbling statues of King Lud and his two sons, Androgeus and Tenvantius, which formerly stood at the gate, now stand in the porch of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West on Fleet Street in London. There was even a pub at Ludgate Circus called "King Lud". After his death, Lud was seemingly elevated to the status of a diety.

When the building of the present St. Paul's cathedral began in 1675, architect Sir Christopher Wren, discovered remains of a pagan Stag Goddess temple in the foundations of the previous Catherdral which had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. This was possibly the site of the pagan temple at Ludgate Hill, reputedly destroyed by the Saxons in 597 AD.


1. Leslie J Myatt, The Standing Stones of Caithness, 2003
2. John Rhys, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, 1888, from the Hibbert Lectures 1886, pp 125 – 129.
3. Roger Sherman Loomis, Celtic Myth in Arthurian Romance
4. John Rhys, ibid.
5. Lebor Gabala Erenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland or The Book of Invasions), compiled in the 11th Century. This translation has been disputed – see The Four Sacred Symbols by Michael Ragan.
6. Mortimer Wheeler, and T.V. Wheeler, Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric Roman and Post-Roman site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire (1932), p. 100.)