Saturday 13 September 2008

The Search for Lud

Lud's Church  IV

We have identified Lud’s Church in the Roaches as the Green Chapel from the medieval tale Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but who was Lud and why was this cleft in the Staffordshire hillside named after a character from the dawn of time in Celtic mythology?

A Most Ancient Book
Around AD.1136 Geoffrey of Monmouth produced The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Brittaniae) which he claimed he had translated from "a most ancient book" ("librum vetustissimum"), written in the British language and given to him by Walter, archdeacon of Oxford. This pseudo-history was undoubtedly a work of fiction but was a master piece of medieval literature at the time, some claim he put King Arthur on the map, but it must be recognised that he corrupted Arthurian history forever with his fables and tales, which some even derided at the time:

"it is quite clear that everything this man wrote about Arthur ….. was made up, partly by himself and partly by others, either from an inordinate love of lying, or for the sake of pleasing the Britons." - William of Newburgh, c.1190

"If the evil spirits oppressed him too much, the Gospel of St. John was placed on his bosom, when, like birds, they immediately vanished; but when the book was removed, and the History of the Britons by "Geoffrey Arthur" (as Geoffrey named himself) was substituted in its place, they instantly reappeared in greater numbers, and remained a longer time than usual on his body and on the book." - Gerald of Wales, recounting the experience of a man possessed by demons in The Journey through Wales/The Description of Wales, edited by Lewis Thorpe.

The impact of Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain (Historium Regnum Britanniae - Galfridus Monemutensis) cannot be understated. At the time it was something of an equivalent to the modern day best seller, perhaps like the impact of today’s bestselling Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Geoffrey appears to have been in possession of some traditional sources, probably Breton, and changed the face of Arthurian literature for ever. Like Brown, who turned a non-fiction theory into bestselling fiction, [1] Geoffrey, probably used some traditional sources to spin a yarn around Arthur, perhaps maintaining the kernel of the tale but manipulating the rest to fill in the gaps. By the time Geoffrey had finished Arthur had become the emperor of Europe, whereas in tradition he was the defender of Britain, the greatest of warriors, the Dux Bellorum the leader of battles who according Nennius fought alongside the Kings of Britain. For this reason it is essential when studying Arthurian literature, particularly in searching for Arthur’s origins to establish if it is free of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s influence, termed Pre-Galfridian, at least pre-1136.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work seemed to confuse many traditional names in translation into Latin, or deliberately changed them like good fiction writers do to fit the story; the Welsh writers attempted to correct these ‘mistranslations’ when they produced their own version of Geoffrey’s story, known collectively as the Bruts. The Welsh word brut is derived from Brutus's name, the mythical founder of the Britain, up to the time of Cadwaladr Fendigaid and originally meant "a history of Brutus" and then became known as "a chronicle history".

The origins of Gawain seem to lie in the pre-Galfridian native champion Gwalchmei of Welsh tradition. However, his parentage becomes confused, like so much of the Arthurian legend, through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s translation into Latin and then into Welsh by the redactors of the Bruts. We have an original work, perhaps in Breton, possibly Geoffrey’s source, that he translated into Latin, which was then translated into Welsh, and then the French Romancers added their own versions too - no wonder it becomes confused !

In The Brut y Brenhinedd (Chronicle of the Kings) - the Welsh translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's fictional History of the Kings of Britain – the redactor [2] substitutes Gwalchmei for Gualguanus - Geoffrey’s name for Gawain. The redactors the of the Brut, may have been following an early welsh tradition as we have seen as Gwalchmei’s son of Gwyar, and confused Geoffrey name for his father as Lot (Luwddoc) with Llew ap Cynfarch. .

The Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes) originates in a Latin chronicle compiled sometime in the late thirteenth century. Unfortunately this original Latin chronicle has not survived; it was however translated into Welsh and therefore exists in several separate versions, each of which is considered, probably an independent translation of the original work Intended as the sequel to The Brut y Brenhinedd, Brut y Tywysogion was therefore the Chronicle of the Princes or the history of the Kings of Wales, from the death of Cadwaladr Fendigaid in the year 682 to the death of Llywellyn ap Gruffudd, the last native ruler of Wales in 1282.

In the Bruts we find the Welsh counterpart of Gawain referred to constantly as Gwalchmei ap Gwyar, that is "Gwalchmei son of Gwyar”.

Throughout the romances Gawain’s father was maintained at Lot (or Loth) and according to Geoffrey his mother was called Anna, though in nearly all other Romances she was Morgause and Mordred was his brother. Geoffrey seems to have confused Gawain’s father with the Northern tradition of Lot Luwddoc (of the Host) who is possibly based on the semi-legendary Leudonus, a late 5th century post-roman ruler of the Gododdin. The redactor of the Bruts rendered Gualguanus (Gawain) into Gwalchmei son of Gwyar of Welsh tradition and as the son of Llew ap Cynfarch, from the Northern genealogies, thereby maintaining that tradition.

With the English Romancers he remained the most courageous of knights and in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he replaced Cúchulainn, the Irish champion in the beheading contest of Bricriu’s Feast, the archetypal warrior of the Irish epics.

Gawain, however, was no ordinary knight; he seemed to possess supernatural powers, and although he fell from grace with the French Romancers who replaced him with Lancelot as the “best of knights”, these powers persisted throughout, Gawain’s strength waxing and waning with the power of the sun, he knew the healing qualities of herbs and his mother was fairy.

Son of Gwyar
Gwalchmei being the origin of Gawain, who featured in (Pre-Galfridian) Welsh tradition prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s stories, possibly meaning Hawk of May, due to his strength being connected to the power of the sun seems to point to him originating as a pagan sun deity associated with the Beltain festival on 1st May. As Gwalchmei vab Gwyar he was the son of Gwyar, who appeared as his parent in Peredur, Gereint and Enid, The Dream of Rhonabwy, The Triads and the Bruts.
In Welsh tradition Gwyar has another child, a brother to Gwalchmai, who appears in Culhwch as Gwalhauet mab Gwyar, the precursor of Galahad, a suggested etymology for his name could be ‘Battle Hawk’ but he is usually referred to as the “Falcon (or Hawk) of Summer”. He is possibly synonymous with Gwalchmei, although traditionally may have been an independent figure. [3]

It may have been assumed that Gwyar was possibly Gwalchmei’s father in the earlier welsh tradition as a patronymic ( son of Gwyar = i.e. the father’s name) and when welsh writers became aware of the Contintental Romances, following Geoffrey, making Lot his father, they simply changed Gwyar’s gender and subsequently to Gawain’s mother. It has been suggested that Lot was not a real name but a title meaning ‘Lothian Ruler’ his name could have been Gwyar. However, the use of the matronymic is not unheard of, in fact both Math vab Mathonwy and his nephew Gwydion vab Dôn from the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, they both take their mother’s name. [4]

In Bonedd y Saint (Descent of the Saints) Gwyar is listed as one on the many daughters of Amlawdd Wledig (the epithet 'gwledig' being equivalent to the Latin title 'protector'). Bonedd y Saint is generally thought to have been compiled around the middle of the 12th century and therefore may be contemporary with Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is complied from material that closely resembles the Royal Genealogies and deals mainly with saints from north and central Wales and seems to be copies of a variety of compositions of earlier date, significantly the Old Welsh form of some names suggests that the material is much older in origin.

In the fourteenth-century Welsh tale The Birth of Arthur, an attempt is made to reconcile the earlier tradition with that of Geoffrey by substituting Gwyar for Anna as Arthur’s sister. In this story Gwyar is a widow and marries Lleu ap Cynarch, they had two sons, Mordred and Gwalchmai and three daughters, Gracia, Graeria and Dioneta. It seems evident therefore that Gwyar represents a woman’s name and traditionally she is Gwalchmei’s mother.

Whatever their reasoning the redactor(s) of the Bruts conform to Geoffrey’s account of Gwalchmei’s parentage of Lot and Anna but respond to the native tradition by dividing the character into two; Gwalchmei the boy who is son of Lleu ap Cynarch and Anna; and Gwalchmei ap Gwyar, such as in the tradition of Culwch and Olwen, who’s name is used to represent that of Gualguanus in the later tales. [5]

Gwyar seems to have been some kind of heroic title meaning literally 'Blood', John Rhys states that Gwyar is a term used by Welsh poets in a sense to “shed blood” or “gore” and equates her with the Irish war fury the Morrigan. [6] According to Malory, Morgan retired to Gore (Gwyr) and then to her Castle of Tauroc; coincidentally Gwyar is sometimes referred to as the Goddess Gore.

Geoffrey does not appear to know of Gwyar as the parent of his Galuganus and he causes considerable confusion amongst the welsh sources by using the name ‘Anna’ for his mother. In the French medieval Arthurian Romances Morgan becomes further confused with Anna, possibly because they are both listed as Arthur’s sister. Lucy Paton suggests that this association goes back to possibly when they were both Celtic war-goddesses. [7]

As a Celtic Goddess from Irish tradition Anna, Anann or Anu, as Danu she is known as the greatest of all goddesses. She is the Earth Goddess of fertility and plenty. Sometimes Anna appears as an aspect in a trinity with Badb and Macha as the goddess known collectively as the Morrigan. [8] Her widespread appeal is indicated by the suggestion that the river Danube is named after her. As mother of the faeries she is close to the land and waters.

As Danu she is the mother of the Irish gods, synonymous to the goddess Dôn in early Welsh tradition. She is the mother of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the People of the Goddess Danu or Ana, who invaded Ireland on the first of May, battled the Fir Bolg, and eventually won an uneasy peace. The Tuatha Dé Danann were in turn displaced by the Milesians, a mortal race, and retreated to the sídhe, or hollow hills, to become the Faery Folk of legend. As Anann, her dark side, like the Morrigan, forms a battle triad with Badb and Macha. This suggests she was probably a mixture of Danu and Morrigan.

Gwalchmei’s mother, Gwyar according to early Welsh tradition, then appears to be synonymous with Danu, as Anu or Anna, the goddess of the fairies and the war-fury the Morrigan, also known in the Medieval Romances as Arthur’s sister Morgan le Fay. [9]

We can summarise the similarities of Gwalchmei/Gawain’s mother as listed in their respective traditions:

• Arthur’s sister in early Welsh Tradition,
• Wife of Lleu,
• Name equates to gore or blood-shed,
• Appears as a war-frenzy, along with Badb and Macha, forming a triple goddess with the Morrigan

• Arthur’s sister in Geoffrey of Monmouth,
• Wife of Lot in Geoffrey, confused with Lot Luwddoc (Leudonus), Llew ap Cynfarch,
• Name equates to Danu (Anu) - mother of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Irish Goddess of the Faeries,
• As Anann, forms a battle triad with Badb and Macha, like the Morrigan.

It should therefore be of no surprise to us that Gawain maintained his supernatural qualities throughout the medieval Arthurian romances, as Gwalchmei his roots seem to be firmly planted in the Celtic Mythology of early Welsh and Irish tradition. When Geoffrey of Monmouth named his mother as Anna it appeared to be at odds with the Welsh tradition who knew her Gwyar and the other romancers who called her Morgause. [10] Either way she maintained her connection to Arthur as his sister and wife of Lot or Lew/Lleu. Her roots can be traced back to being associated with the pantheon of early Irish gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann and has clear links with the battle goddess, the war-fury, The Morrigan. Perhaps Gwain’s pagan roots were well known to the medieval romancers and that is why his popularity weakened and he became replaced with Lancelot as later writers tended to Christianise the grail stories after Chretien’s overtly pagan works.
Son of Lot
We have established that Gwalchmei’s mother as Gwyar in the earlier welsh tradition, as we have seen above, whether following Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version or early Welsh tradition Gwalchmei/Gawain’s mother appears to be one and the same albeit substituted with differing epithets and it would appear that his father’s name persisted as Lot, Llew or Lleu.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth Gawain’s father was Lot, which as Loth, appears to been have based on the name for a ruler of the Scottish region known as Lothian. As previously discussed, this notion may have been based on a Northern tradition of Lot which became confused with the Lot Luwddoc (of the Host) in later versions, possibly based on the semi-legendary Leudonus, a late 5th century post-roman ruler of the Gododdin. Was this the reason for the confusion with the name Leu/Lleu ?

Lot was certainly confused with a historical character by the redactor who substitutes Llew ap Cynfarch for him in the Brut. Llew ap Cynfarch would appear to be an historical character mentioned in the Northern genealogies as the brother of Urien Rheged, the most powerful king in Northern Britain at that time. Does he have any relevance in the quest for Gwalchmei/Gawain origins?

Who were these men, all identified in various sources as Gwalchmei/Gawain's father, who always carried the name of Lot, Llew or Lleu, and as with his mother, do they all lead to the same mythological figure?

1. Compare the Da Vinci Code to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh, which provides a more in depth explanation of the theory put forward in the fictional Dan Brown bestseller. The popularity of Geoffrey’s Historia is demonstrated by the fact that over 200 manuscripts survive, for a work produced in 1136 this is phenomenal – see Julia C. Crick, The Historia Regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth III: A Summary Catalogue of the Manuscripts - Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1989.
2. The task of the Redactor was to prepare for publication; edit or revise, particularly in multiple source texts which are combined together, subjected to minor alteration to make it appear that they are a single work. The redactor may add brief elements of his own, possibly to adjust the underlying conclusions of the text to suit the redactor's opinion, or simply to provide a suitable frame for the tale.
3. Little information survives on the goddess Mathonwy but she generally is referred to in as the Mother part of a triple diety; and the goddess Dôn is Mother of the Welsh gods. In early Irish tradition the matronymic is also used for Conchobor mac Nessa and Fergus mac Roich.
4. Rachel Bromwich, The Triads, 2006 Third Edition, pp.369-70
5. John Rhys, Studies in the Arthurian Legend, pp 72 & pp 169. See chapter. VIII - "Galahad and Gwalchaved".
6. John Rhys, Studies in the Arthurian Legend,
7. Lucy Paton, Studies in The Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance, pp 141-144.
8. Kevin Saunders, Wiccan Spirituality p 191.
9. The Morrigan is the goddess of fertility, battle, and strife. Her name meaning "Phantom Queen." She can appear as a single goddess, or as part of a trio of goddesses with Badb and Macha. The Morrigan often appears as a hooded crow. She is considered the original of Morgan Le Fay, ('le fay' meaning “the fairy”).
10. Morgause may have been confused with Murigen, in Irish mythology a goddess of lakes and clearly very close to Morrigan. Lancelot of the Lake came to replace Gawain in many of the continental Arthurian stories and his mother was the Lady of the Lake. Either way, in early tradition Gwalchmei’s mother was without doubt a goddess from the Celtic pantheon.

Picture credits:
1. The Death of Arthur by John Mulcaster Carrick
2. Morgan le Fay by Sir Edward Burne-Jones
3. La Mort d'Arthur by James Archer